Supporters of LGBT equality are celebrating yesterday’s votes for same-sex marriage rights in Maine, Maryland, and Washington, as well as Minnesotans rejecting a constitutional amendment designed to restrict marriage rights to heterosexuals.
The election also slammed the door on any prospect of overturning marriage equality in Iowa.
Iowa Democrats will hold at least 26 seats in the Iowa Senate, with Senate district 28 still too close to call and Senate district 22 to be decided in a December 11 special election.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, who won re-election in Senate district 8, welcomed the Iowa Supreme Court’s Varnum v Brien decision in 2009. He has blocked many attempts by Republicans to force a floor vote on a constitutional amendment to overturn marriage equality. He showed exceptional ability to hold his 26 members together during the 2011 and 2012 sessions, even on tough social issues. Iowa House Republicans approved a constitutional amendment on marriage in 2011 and may have the votes to do that again next year, but the measure will die in the Senate.
Under Iowa’s procedure for changing the constitution, an amendment must pass both the state House and Senate during two separately elected sessions before going to the voters for approval. So before any measure overturning marriage equality could appear on a statewide ballot, Republicans would need to hold their Iowa House majority and win back the Senate in 2014, pass the amendment in 2015 or 2016, keep control of both chambers in 2016, and pass the amendment again in 2017 or 2018.
Meanwhile, polls show more and more Iowans support same-sex marriage rights. So even if Republicans are able to push the issue during future legislative sessions, their chances of winning a popular vote will be slim.
Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins also survived yesterday’s retention vote despite two rounds of television commercials by the same crowd who ousted three Iowa Supreme Court justices in 2010. The last three justices who concurred in Varnum v Brien won’t be up for retention until 2016.
I can’t see how social conservatives could persuade a majority of Iowans to vote no on Chief Justice Mark Cady, Justice Daryl Hecht, and Justice Brent Appel four years from now. Not only is popular acceptance of marriage equality growing, those judges won’t have the other baggage that dragged down Wiggins’ rating with Iowa Bar Association members this year.
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P.S. – Daniel Lundby became the first openly gay person elected to the Iowa House yesterday by defeating Republican Nick Wagner in House district 68. His late mother was longtime State Senator Mary Lundby, one of four Iowa Senate Republicans to vote against a constitutional amendment on marriage in 2004. That amendment failed by a single vote in the upper chamber. If it had passed, Iowans would have long ago voted to restrict marriage to one man and one woman, and the Varnum v Brien ruling would never have happened.
P.P.S – By a narrow margin, Iowans in Senate district 26 elected Democrat Mary Jo Wilhelm over Republican Merlin Bartz. One of the legislature’s most outspoken opponents of marriage equality, Bartz promoted a petition drive in April 2009 urging county recorders not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Along with Gronstal’s race in Senate district 8, the Bartz/Wilhelm race was a top priority for Bob Vander Plaats’ FAMiLY Leader organization.