The Right Concedes: Marriage Equality Safe in Iowa for 2010
Though anti-gay activists continue to push for a Proposition 8-style voter referendum to revoke the existing right for Iowa’s gay and lesbian families to wed, state lawmakers are standing strong for equality, and the political right has acknowledged that same-sex unions are safe for now.
If those predictions hold true and state lawmakers do not approve a ballot initiative this year, the rights of same-sex families will not go up to a popular vote until 2014, reported The Iowa Independent in a Jan. 5 article.
"There’s just no chance at all" that the Democratically-dominated state government will clear the way this year for a ballot box attack on Iowa’s gay and lesbian families, according to former Republican state senator Jeff Angelo. "Democratic leaders have really put themselves out there and said they are not going to allow a vote, so it won’t happen. I think Republicans know that."
The article said that Iowa Democrats in the state’s senate and house alike turned back multiple attacks on marriage equality in 2009. The article said that state Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal even declared that he would not permit the issue to come up for a vote.
"As long as Mike Gronstal is the de facto governor of Iowa, there’s not going to be a marriage amendment, barring direct intervention in that man’s heart by God himself," anti-gay Christian talk radio host Steve Deace told the media. "Beyond that, like the Pharaoh of old Mr. Gronstal’s heart is hardened towards righteousness and morality, and it’s clear that promotion of homosexuality is something he’s serious about. He’s not budging, and the few of his fellow Democrats who might otherwise share the views of folks like me are too intimidated by him to stick their necks out for what’s right."
The article noted that Iowa Democrats had prevented anti-gay amendments to the state’s constitution from gaining traction since 2004. But anti-gay activists are contemplating an array of options. "The strategy going forward is to focus the debate not on passage of an amendment, because that’s not going to happen, but on who has the final say in this debate--the people or the courts," said Angelo, adding, "I think this could be a significant issue in the next election." To that end, Angelo advocated keeping the issue alive in the public forum: "This is about starting early in the battle for the hearts and minds of the public," he said.
To that end, groups like Let Us Vote (LUV) Iowa have pledged to keep mounting high-profile attacks on marriage equality even if family equality is unlikely to disappear from the state soon. One such event, the anti-marriage "Two Days For Marriage" initiative, is scheduled for Jan. 12 and will commence with a congregation of anti-gay activists at the Iowa state capitol. "On January 12th, we are encouraging those people, and all Iowans who care about preserving marriage and the constitutional separation of powers, to come together to take a stand, and once again ask Iowa lawmakers to ’Let Us Vote’ on the Iowa Marriage Amendment," said Iowa Family Policy Center (IFPC) Action President Chuck Hurley.
Continued the anti-gay leader, "We plan to send a very clear message on January 12th that we intend to exercise our right to vote on the definition of marriage, and then follow up on that message with a consistent presence at the Capitol all session long." Added Hurley, "We expect the Members of the Iowa Legislature to listen to their constituents and not to stand in the way of our constitutional right to vote on the Iowa Marriage Amendment," a proposed ballot initiative that would rescind marriage rights for non-heterosexual families by amending the Iowa state constitution. "Any Member who stands between the people and our right to vote is risking their political future," warned Hurley. "We will remember in November."
"Republican leaders have already promised to make it a key issue in 2010," said blogger and Republican strategist Kevin Hall. "It remains to be seen how well that helps them at the ballot box. Gay marriage is the key issue with the Iowa GOP’s social conservative base, but I think more people are concerned about the economy, jobs and the ineptitude of the Culver administration."
The article noted that a September poll by the Des Moines Register showed the pro- and anti-equality sides running neck and neck. But the numbers also suggest that Hall is correct that most people are more worried about real-world practical concerns that impact them directly; the poll found that 63% of respondents though that lawmakers had better things to do than target gay and lesbian families. Indeed, an overwhelming 92% told the poll that the state’s embrace of full family equality had not impact their own lives one way or another.
For Hall, though, the message was not that marriage equality benefits gay families while doing no harm to straight unions. Rather, Hall saw the issue in terms of Republicans needing to focus on economic issues in order to win the seats necessary to launch a successful attack on gay and lesbian family equality. "Then, Republicans might be able to force the legislature to vote on a constitutional amendment in 2011," said Hall.
Inevitably, groups from out of state have taken an interest in the issue of Iowans’ family equality. Anti-gay group the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a major supporter of California’s anti-family ballot initiative Proposition 8, has targeted marriage equality in Iowa with what it calls its "Reclaim Iowa Project," an anti-family program that takes aim at pro-equality state lawmakers and seeks to replace them with anti-equality officials.
"Iowa is important because the Supreme Court decision was so against the will of the people of Iowa and the Legislature and Gov. (Chet) Culver showed absolutely no backbone in giving the people the right to have their voices heard," NOM executive director Brian Brown told the Associated Press in an Aug. 27, 2009 article.
Lambda Legal attorney Camilla Taylor expressed optimism that the group would not succeed in revoking family equality in Iowa, despite its previous success in California. "They specialize in fear-mongering and scare tactics and it’s also clear in many cases their ads are fundraising ploys more than anything else," said Taylor of NOM. "We’re very confident that Iowans ... have no desire to write discrimination into their constitution."
NOM has claimed that its contributors have suffered threats and intimidation, and has sought to keep the identities of its financial backers a secret. NOM also has denied that, contrary to reports in the GLBT press, the organization is chiefly backed and directed by the Mormon Church, which directed its adherents to support the anti-gay ballot initiative in California in 2008.
The director of Lambda Legal affiliate One Iowa, Brad Clark, linked the group and the Mormons, saying that NOM "and the Mormon church (have) invested millions of dollars [in attempts to lock gay families out of legal recognition elsewhere] and now they have their sights set on Iowa. They have been funneling money from the Mormon Church into these activities and we’re encouraging our friends and supporters to call on NOM to release a list of those donors."
"We are an interreligious organization and we have plenty of members without any faith at all, and the one thing that bonds us together is our belief that marriage should be between one man and one woman," Brown, who denied that NOM is a Mormon-run operation, said.
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.