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Protect all Iowans’ civil rights


A series of seemingly disconnected events remind us that for every step forward one governmental body takes to define Iowa as an open, accepting place that embraces diversity, another takes it two steps backward. As a result, Iowa’s having a devil of a time beating the rap that the state has a monolithic culture and wants to keep it that way.

The step forward was with a decision a couple of months back by the Des Moines City Council, which ended months of head-scratching when members voted to retain the “Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway Jr.” name when the east-west section of the parkway is connected to the north-south route this spring. More symbolic than substantive, the council’s action sends a message that Des Moines regards the civil rights struggle that King led as important.

Des Moines does more than make nice gestures, however. Recognizing that racial equality is only part of the ongoing civil rights struggle in America, officials added language to the city’s civil rights code in 2001 that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Similar ordinances are in effect in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Ames and Davenport. Collectively and by default, those cities have become the social conscience of Iowa, a reminder that the civility Iowans like to claim they possess actually exists in some places.

It’s too bad the Iowa Legislature isn’t as eager to dispel the notion the state is one-dimensional. Opposition to a Senate measure that would catch the state up with the laws several cities already have adopted ranges from the predictable hysteria from the Christian Coalition of Iowa, which warns of a “civilization in decline caused by moral decay” if another protected class is defined, to the puzzling opposition by the Iowa Association of School Boards, whose members would seem to be likely allies in the fight to protect students from harassment based on sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation.

Whether Iowa will move forward, step back or stand still on this issue remains to be seen. It is a welcome counter to a bill introduced in the Iowa Senate this year for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman, a huge step backward.

What does all this have to do with business? Plenty. Multi-pronged efforts to plug Iowa’s brain drain are futile if government policy rejects intolerance for who some of those young people are.

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