The journey to write “Equal Before the Law: How Iowa Led Americans to Marriage Equality” began April 3, 2009, when the Iowa Supreme Court granted gays and lesbians the right to marry in Iowa. It will end June 1, when University of Iowa Press publishes the book, which I co-authored with my friend and longtime Des Moines Register colleague Marc Hansen.
Some have asked why two veteran writers who spent most of their careers in the sports department would tackle this issue. It’s simple. Sportswriters know a great story when they see one. I realized that this is a story of how people overcome adversity, just like Jackie Robinson who made history when he joined Major League Baseball, did.
Sure, we faced hurdles on the way to publication. We even had an agent, who told us she didn’t think two daily journalists could do it, walk away from the project early on.
We conducted many of our interviews together, but we understood our separate strengths. As an investigative reporter with years of experience covering politics and law, I wrote about how the law restricting marriage to a man and a woman was approved and why a court order overturned it 11 years later. Hansen, a most artful writer, provided vivid portraits and insight into the major participants in the struggle.
Our daily routine was talk early and then write. On completion of a chapter, we would ship it to the other writer for editing and rewriting. Our goal was to blend all of the elements into a story of tenacity and courage.
On the day of the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling in Varnum v. Brien, I watched the Des Moines Register newsroom go into overdrive. The surprising decision made Iowa only the third state in the nation to permit gay and lesbian couples to marry. For three years, I pestered Justice Mark Cady, who had written the Varnum decision, to tell the story behind the court’s opinion. Finally, in 2012, he agreed.
Ironically, our biggest break to write the book came from our employer, Gannett. For a year’s pay and benefits, they told us we could leave after more than 30 years each at The Des Moines Register.
“I hear you want to write a book about the Varnum decision,” Hansen said to me while we considered taking retirement. “You want to work together on it?”
About then, a top newsroom manager walked up and said, “You guys look like you’re talking about something important.”
“We are,” I replied. The journey to write our first book had begun.