Culver won't try to overturn Iowa Supreme Court ruling

Governor Chet Culver released a statement today confirming that he will not support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in Iowa. The governor said his personal faith still holds that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and he emphasized that the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision in Varnum v Brien

reaffirmed that churches across Iowa will continue to have the right to recognize the sanctity of religious marriage in accordance with their own traditions and church doctrines. The Supreme Court’s decision does not require that churches recognize marriages between persons of the same gender or officiate over such unions.

After reassuring Iowans that religious marriage is not affected by the ruling, the governor noted:

Yet, the Supreme Court of Iowa, in a unanimous decision, has clearly stated that the Constitution of our state, which guarantees equal protection of the law to all Iowans, requires the State of Iowa to recognize the civil marriage contract of two people of the same gender. The Court also concluded that the denial of this right constitutes discrimination. Therefore, after careful consideration and a thorough reading of the Court’s decision, I am reluctant to support amending the Iowa Constitution to add a provision that our Supreme Court has said is unlawful and discriminatory.

“As Governor, I must respect the authority of the Iowa Supreme Court, and have a duty to uphold the Constitution of the State of Iowa. I also fully respect the right of all Iowans to live under the full protection of Iowa’s Constitution.

I’ve posted the full text of Culver’s statement after the jump.

Here’s to the governor for doing the right thing.  Republicans will hammer Culver for not doing “whatever it takes to protect marriage between a man and a woman,” but they weren’t voting for him anyway.

More important, as Attorney General Tom Miller noted last Friday, the court issued a unanimous “clear and well-reasoned opinion.” Social conservatives don’t have to change their religious beliefs, but their faith-based objections to gay unions are not grounds to deny other citizens the benefits of civil marriage. Marriage equality does not threaten heterosexual marriage in any way.  

Governor Chet Culver’s statement of April 7, 2009

DES MOINES – Governor Chet Culver today issued the following statement after reviewing the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision in Varnum v. Brien:

“I have carefully reviewed the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous decision on civil marriage and discussed it with the Attorney General.

“Let me begin by saying that I recognize that the issue of same-gender civil marriage is one that evokes strongly held beliefs and strong emotions both for and against. These beliefs and feelings need to be respected. I hope that the views of those on all sides will be treated respectfully and will not be subjected to name-calling or fear-mongering, but instead will lead to rational discussion.

“At the outset, I want to emphasize that the question before the Iowa Supreme Court was one of civil marriage only – a state-recognized legal status constituting a civil contract. Civil marriage always has been, and will continue to be, separate from religious marriage that takes place in churches and places of worship.

“As I have stated before, I personally believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. This is a tenet of my personal faith. The Iowa Supreme Court’s decision has, in fact, reaffirmed that churches across Iowa will continue to have the right to recognize the sanctity of religious marriage in accordance with their own traditions and church doctrines. The Supreme Court’s decision does not require that churches recognize marriages between persons of the same gender or officiate over such unions. The Court does not have, nor should any court ever have, that kind of power over our religious lives. Our churches and places of worship are free to decide for themselves, as they were before, who may enter the sacred covenant of marriage. As the Supreme Court’s decision states, ‘The sanctity of all religious marriages celebrated in the future will have the same meaning as those celebrated in the past.’

“Yet, the Supreme Court of Iowa, in a unanimous decision, has clearly stated that the Constitution of our state, which guarantees equal protection of the law to all Iowans, requires the State of Iowa to recognize the civil marriage contract of two people of the same gender. The Court also concluded that the denial of this right constitutes discrimination. Therefore, after careful consideration and a thorough reading of the Court’s decision, I am reluctant to support amending the Iowa Constitution to add a provision that our Supreme Court has said is unlawful and discriminatory.

“As Governor, I must respect the authority of the Iowa Supreme Court, and have a duty to uphold the Constitution of the State of Iowa. I also fully respect the right of all Iowans to live under the full protection of Iowa’s Constitution.

“I urge Iowans who hold beliefs on all sides of this issue to exhibit respect and good will. Our state faces many serious challenges. We are in the midst of a serious economic recession. Tens of thousands of our fellow Iowans are without work. We have suffered the worst natural disasters and most difficult recovery our state has ever faced. We must join together and redouble our efforts to work toward solutions that will help Iowans in this time of uncertainty. That is where, I believe, my focus and energies should lie.

“Let us not lose sight of the fact that we are all Iowans, all neighbors, united in the promise and faith of a brighter future for our state. Let us all work together toward that common goal.”

  • Well, well, well....

    Chet has a spine. Well, maybe not a spine, but a realization that losing the part of the Democratic Party he has left is not good for his future.

    Actually, the wording of the press release is very strong, so I’m willing to entertain the thought that Governor Culver actually believes the constitutional provision of equal protection, unanimously cited in the court’s decision, is in fact definitive.

    Of course a convention would be a circus. So, there’s that….

    I believe I see the handiwork of the Attorney General’s office in that press release.

    Thanks Tom!

  • BTW, DesMoinesDem,

    Thanks for your exhaustive and thorough coverage of the unfolding events. I really personally appreciate it.

  • I got hammered over at DKos for my view of this

    Iowa Independent lead their story this afternoon with this headline and first paragraph"

    Culver: ‘Voters will have an opportunity to weigh in’ on gay marriage

    By JASON HANCOCK 4/8/09 3:43 PM

    In his first press conference since the Iowa Supreme Court voided the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, Gov. Chet Culver said Wednesday that Iowa’s voters will have their voices heard on the issue, even if a constitutional amendment doesn’t become reality.

    “[Opponents] can talk to their legislators about amending the constitution,” Culver said. “They will have the option on the ballot in 2010 to call for a constitution convention. So the voters will have an opportunity to weigh in on this.”

    My view of Culver’s statement is that he missed an opportunity to say what every responsible person thinks, that the Constitutional Convention idea is terrible, regardless of who controls the legislature, and people should vote “no.”

    My view is he thinks that a convention would in fact overturn the Supreme Court Decision.  He threw in the stuff about labor just to try to curry a little favor with people that are seriously angry with him.

    Thankfully, Gronstal knows how to play stuff like this.  His comments are right on point.

    • Gronstal clearly has a different temperament

      Culver is cautious by nature, not just on this but on many other topics. Gronstal is right, I think, not to take the so-called "moderate" position of grudgingly accepting the Supreme Court ruling while making clear that he believe marriage is for one man and one woman. That position would be instinctive for many Democrats, but it’s not going to wear well as time passes. Gronstal understands that he’s not going to please everybody, so he may as well say what he really thinks.

      I am not sure that everyone thinks a Constitutional Convention is a terrible idea, by the way. But whatever Gronstal thinks about it, he is smart to give the impression that he’s not afraid of going down that route.

      • Historically, the Convention threat

        was just that, a threat do do something radical, like ban all abortions, or reinstate the death penalty. Of course Dave Stanley wants to end taxation, and there are many other crummy ideas out there just waiting to be exploited by demagogues.  Sure, if the convention repealed Right to Work, guaranteed statewide healthcare, and upheld the court’s decision, it could be great, but those aren’t the things that would get done. The right would control the message with churches and talk radio.

        Even though I’m absolutely pro-choice, I voted for Blouin in the primary, but that was because Gronstal personally promised to prevent that issue from coming up in the Senate, and a bunch of people I know made Blouin understand that he had to take a secular position on choice, which he eventually did.

        I still think I cast the right vote. Blouin is a LOT smarter than Culver.

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