By Nova Safo, CNN
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Editor's Note: On March 26th and 27th, the US Supreme Court will hear two key cases regarding same-sex marriage. Every Monday and Tuesday in March, CNN Radio will feature stories about issues related to same-sex marriage.
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(CNN) - Gay marriage has been legal in Iowa for four years. The state was the third in the country to allow same-sex couples to wed, after its supreme court ruled the state’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional.
Since then, legalized gay marriage has had no effect on the lives of most Iowans, except perhaps in altering their views on gay marriage, according to Molly Tafoya, communications director for the gay advocacy group One Iowa:
[:54] “The sky hasn’t fallen and nothing really has changed for the day-to-day. I think we’re seeing a growing acceptance among Iowans, who just see this as the new normal here.”
A poll conducted in October, 2012, found that 49 percent of Iowa voters were in favor of gay marriage, up from 41 percent just a year earlier. But legalized gay marriage is far from a universally accepted fact of life in the state. In the last few weeks, Republican legislators in both the Iowa house and senate introduced measures to amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage.
Had Jeff Angelo still been a state senator - he left political office in 2009 - he might have been one of those Republicans. He describes himself as a conservative, and while he was in the legislature, he sponsored an unsuccessful measure to ban gay marriage. But since he left office, he’s had many conversations with gay Iowans and changed his mind on the issue:
[2:35] “Most of our small towns have people in them that are gay, and live peaceful lives. They’re not made to feel like outsiders. So what occurred to me was that the political debate didn’t really match up what was going on in Iowa communities. And that’s when I thought this is just unfair. There’s no evil force that’s out there that’s trying to destroy marriage. It was people that just wanted to fall in love, and have stable families and monogamous relationships just like I do. That’s what changed my mind.”
Angelo joined forces with One Iowa to form Iowa Republicans for Freedom, a group working to advance a conservative argument in support of gay marriage and to encourage more Republicans to join the cause.
Ken Mehlman is doing similar work on a national scale. Mehlman was the campaign manager for President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign. He was also chairman of the Republican National Committee. He came out as gay in 2010, and has been making the case that conservative Republicans should support gay marriage because of their ideological beliefs in less government.
Mehlman drew headlines with a legal brief he filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in February to support overturning Proposition 8, the California gay marriage ban. The brief was signed by more than 100 Republicans, including advisors to Mitt Romney and John McCain.
But that’s national politics and does not necessarily convince politicians who have to face constituents in their districts, Jeff Angelo said:
[4:44] “A lot of Republican legislators will not go public with their support of marriage equality because they believe that they will get a primary opponent that will be heavily funded by the religious groups that do have a lot of money. In that universe of voters that is much smaller in a primary, they’re afraid they’re going to lose.”
Angelo wants to help candidates that support gay marriage to win Republican primaries in swing districts. But he faces significant opposition among conservatives.
Robert Vander Plaats, president of The Family Leader, has spearheaded that opposition, as well as a successful recall effort to oust three of the Iowa Supreme Court justices who voted to legalize gay marriage. Last year, Vander Plaats expressed the view held by many conservative legislators: the Iowa supreme court overreached:
[5:36] “The law in the books is one male one female. That’s still the law today. So Iowans didn’t do this. A court did this.”
No matter the legal arguments, a Des Moines Register poll in February found that 56 percent of Iowa voters do not support a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman. The poll also found a wide ideological gap on the issue, with 15 percent of Democrats joining 64 percent or Republicans in support of a gay marriage ban.
To learn more about how Iowans may be shifting in their views on gay marriage, listen to our story above.