Love thy neighbor

Rhodes Scholar Stephanie Bell, AB'08, pens an open letter against an Iowa state rep trying to ban gay marriage.

In middle school, Stephanie Bell, AB'08, babysat for the children of Kim Pearson, the recently elected state representative for Iowa's 42nd district. Bell, who's in Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, took to the Internet this weekend to argue against a Pearson-sponsored amendment to Iowa's Constitution to ban gay marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships.

Bell wrote the letter Saturday on her blog, Post.Culture.Shock. Detailing how the manners she learned growing up in Des Moines drove her to give back to society—including doing HIV/AIDS advocacy work while studying abroad in South Africa—Bell sought to let Pearson see one person her amendment would disenfranchise, as Bell might put it.

Bell's tone is mostly friendly and neighborly—she and Pearson didn't keep up their relationship after Bell left middle school, when she babysat Pearson's kids. Yet at times the letter is firm: "What deeply worries and outrages me is that I shouldn’t have to justify having equal rights because I’ve spent so much time giving back to all of the communities that I’ve lived in. It shouldn’t be relevant that the people we’re depriving of their rights are police officers, fire fighters, and school teachers. No other group has to justify their rights by pointing to all that they’ve contributed to the world."

The Rhodes Scholar, working on her M.Phil of Development Studies at Oxford, came out to her mother at the end of high school and her father in college, she writes.

An editorial in the Des Moines Register stood against the amendment. "Republicans in the Legislature were expected to roll out a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Iowa. They weren't expected to roll over so many other rights in the process, however." The amendment will end civil unions and domestic partnerships for same sex couples.

The op-ed notes that the amendment, which would apply to the first article of Iowa's Bill of Rights, would be the first to subtract a group's rights in the state's history. It is sponsored by 56 Iowa House Republicans and would nullify a 2009 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that struck down a previous ban on gay marriage. Iowa is one of five U.S. states where same-sex marriage is legal.

Bell's letter drew dozens of supportive comments by Sunday night, after it was posted on Web aggregator Reddit."Stephanie, you don't know me," one reader wrote. "I'm not gay and I don't live in Iowa. But I read this and thought, 'This woman is my new hero.' Bravo."

Asher Klein, '11

January 27, 2011