|Last week Democrats and state officials shut down several efforts to give Iowa's county recorders the power to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. First, Republican State Senator Merlin Bartz offered an amendment that would have allowed county recorders to refuse to accommodate same-sex couples "as a matter of conscience." Senate President Jack Kibbie ruled the amendment out of order. (It's worth noting that Kibbie said shortly after the Iowa Supreme Court ruling that he would vote for a constitutional amendment restricting marriage to one man and one woman in Iowa. I was glad to see that despite his personal discomfort with same-sex marriage, Kibbie held the line against Bartz's ridiculous amendment.)
But Republican lawmakers were not deterred:
Sen. David Hartsuch, R-Bettendorf, crafted a proposal Thursday that would allow recorders to opt out of same-sex marriage licenses. It would be similar to a "conscience clause" in the medical field that allows doctors to opt out of performing abortion, he said.
Hartsuch pointed out that the court ruling states: "Religious doctrine and views contrary to this principle of law are unaffected."
Nice try, Hartsuch. The court indicated that religious institutions would not be forced to recognize same-sex civil marriages--not that public employees could cite their private religious views in order to deny some Iowans their marriage rights. File Hartsuch's ignorant comments under Republicans not getting the judicial review concept.
Senate Majority leader Mike Gronstal was pitch-perfect in his response to these efforts. From a press release last Friday:
"Well, here's the crazy part of it. For example, what if a county recorder is morally opposed to mixed race marriages? You know it used to be illegal under Iowa law for mixed race marriages. Well what if you were a county recorder at that time. Does Senator Bartz think they should be able to say "no" to a mixed race couple?
"What about divorced Iowans? Some religions believe it should be "one man, one woman, one time."? "And under the Bartz approach, your county recorder would be able to say 'No, I'm a Catholic and you don't get to have a second marriage. You had your one.'
"Under the Bartz approach if your county recorder didn't think Catholics should marry Baptists, that would be the law in your county. That's just so wrong.
"In Iowa, everyone is equal under the law. County recorders don't get to decide for themselves which laws they will follow and which they won't.
"I hope Senator Bartz has learned that playing politics is a very, very bad way to go about making legislation."
Although Bartz's free-pass-to-discriminate measure is not going anywhere, some country recorders have checked to see whether they can get out of following the law. According to the Omaha World-Herald,
Anita Van Bruggen, who is the recorder for Sioux County in northwest Iowa, said allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry goes against her religious beliefs. She asked the Sioux County attorney if she had to process applications from same-sex couples, and he said she would be removed from office if she refused. She said she plans to comply with the law.
"Where I come from, we try to follow the law, even if we don't like it," said Sioux County Attorney Coleman McAllister.
Good for McAllister. His statement may seem unremarkable, but Sioux County is the most Republican county in Iowa. I'm talking really crazy conservative territory (as in, more than 70 percent of Sioux County voted for Poppy Bush in 1992, more than 85 percent voted for George W. Bush in 2004, and more than 80 percent voted for John McCain in 2008).
The Des Moines Register reported that one county recorder claimed the Iowa Supreme Court ruling applied only in Polk County, where the Varnum v Brien lawsuit was filed. That prompted a sternly-worded e-mail from Victoria Hutton of the Iowa Department of Public Health:
"To the contrary," Hutton wrote in an e-mail Thursday to all state recorders, "the Supreme Court's decision in Varnum does change state law.
"The decision expressly strikes from Iowa Code chapter 595 the language which limits civil marriage to a man and a woman and orders that 'the remaining statutory language must be interpreted and applied in a manner allowing gay and lesbian people full access to the institution of civil marriage."
Hutton further stated: "All county recorders in the state of Iowa are required to comply with the Varnum decision (following issuance of procedendo from the Supreme Court) and to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in the same manner as licenses issued to opposite gender applicants."
Iowa Assistant Attorney General Heather Adams wrote the warning Hutton sent out, which would seen to be perfectly clear. But no, here's another Republican who doesn't understand that one citizen's religious views can't interfere with another person's marriage rights:
After reading Hartsuch's proposal Thursday, Gronstal later said: "Read. The. Court. Decision. The court said county recorders must issue marriage licenses to gay couples. A statute that says they don't have to is nonsense."
This morning, Sen. David Johnson of Ocheyedan stressed that the ruling conflicts with Iowans' constitutional right to freedom of religion.
Johnson said, "My response is: 'Read. The. State of Iowa. Constitution, Sen. Gronstal."
Meanwhile, a clerk for Republican State Representative Kent Sorenson tried to misinform the Warren County recorder:
Warren County Recorder Polly Glascock said in an e-mail to colleagues that a woman from the Statehouse called her to ask how she'd handle the gay-marriage issue.
Glascock answered that she would be required to process the applications. "She inquired as to why I thought I had to do that - it's not a law, it's an opinion," Glascock wrote.
Presumably this ill-informed clerk was in the crowd last Monday, when wingnut Bill Salier told an anti-gay marriage rally that legislators should "face down the court and say, 'We passed DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act. You claim that it is stricken. And yet unless some magic eraser came down from the sky, it's still in code.'"
Some of my parenting books say lying can be a form of wish fulfillment for children. Even if certain Republicans never outgrew this phase, wishing a law remained in effect after being ruled unconstitutional doesn't make it so.
I'd be fine with county recorders resigning if they strongly oppose same-sex marriage, but it looks like some social conservatives are fishing around for a recorder to stay in office despite refusing to comply with state law. The Des Moines Register cited an e-mail from Johnson County recorder Kim Painter, who alleged that opponents of gay marriage are "trying to locate a recorder willing to perpetrate an act of civil disobedience in a county where the sheriff won't arrest, and the attorney won't prosecute."
We'll find out in the next few months whether any county officials dare to place themselves above the law.
(TUESDAY UPDATE: Senator Bartz is collaborating with the Iowa Family Policy Center on a petition drive to pressure county recorders to refuse to comply with the law.)
On the political side, Republican State Representative Chris Rants didn't get a chance to offer an amendment restricting marriage to heterosexuals last week, because the tax reform bill he was planning to amend never came up for a floor vote in the Iowa House. (It may come up this week if House leaders can find the 51st vote needed to pass it.) Rants tried to attach an anti-gay marriage amendment to a different bill earlier this month, but only two Democrats supported House Republicans on a procedural vote to allow debate on the measure--not enough to bring the amendment to the floor.
This week may be the last in the Iowa legislature's 2009 session, and I don't expect Republicans will succeed in getting an amendment on same-sex marriage debated in either the Iowa House or Senate.
Senator Chuck Grassley ruffled some Republican feathers when he refused to endorse efforts to amend Iowa's constitution to ban gay marriage. He was on Iowa Public Television's Iowa Press program over the weekend, and while he acknowledged "bipartisan concern" over the issue, his comments weren't exactly a battle cry:
Senator Chuck Grassley says he wants to help develop a longterm plan to respond to this month's Iowa Supreme Court ruling which legalized gay marriage in the state.
"I would like to consult with Republican leaders...in the legislature. I'd like to consult with bipartisan groups outside the legislature," Grassley says. "...An issue like this has a great deal of bipartisan concern."[...]
"I think we have to do it in very much a consensus way."
According to Grassley, it will be important to build a "bipartisan coalition" of Iowans who will pursue action at the state level. "And I don't think it should be planned just for this year or next year because this legislature's about over," Grassley says. "I think you ought to plan what you're going to do now; what are you going to do for the next legislature and then assuming you're successful there...afterwards, are you going to have the normal general election or a special election?"
Compare Grassley's comments to the reaction from other prominent Iowa Republicans, who demanded swift action to overturn the Supreme Court. It's easy to see why some Republicans are not happy with Grassley's lack of leadership on this issue.
I don't normally spend much time on conservative blogs, but lately I have been poking my nose around the Iowa rightosphere to gauge their reaction to the marriage equality battle. I was intrigued by this post by Iowans Rock at Iowa Defense Alliance:
It has become increasingly apparent that there are just a handful of Republicans who are stepping forward and fighting the two-fold battle that has surfaced here in Iowa. The battle against activist judges and them unconstitutionally trying to make law and the battle to let Iowans vote on a marriage amendment.
The Iowa Supreme Court's ruling has brought more activists to the statehouse than any other issue that has come up this session, but yet a majority of Republicans are not capitalizing on this political moment. They are not harnessing the energy of this issue and doing everything they can to keep it on the front burner. Not only does this demonstrate their lack of conviction on this issue but it also demonstrates their lack of knowledge on what it takes to win.
Iowans Rock noted that Republican Party of Iowa chairman Matt Strawn sent out four press releases in March about the popular vote bill the Iowa Senate was considering, but
Then the month of April comes along and the press releases from the RPI freeze up. There was one released with Matt Strawn's statement on the Supreme Court's ruling that same day but I have heard crickets chirping since then. Where were all the press releases and robo calls that were previously done on the other issues? Even their twitter account died after the ruling. It was almost like a taboo issue came up and they played the "out of sight, out of mind" game. Did they not see the energy among the voters that this court ruling was generating? Or did they just want to ignore the fact that the one plank in their platform for traditional marriage could be their ticket to victory in 2010.
I appreciated this post, because I don't follow Matt Strawn's press releases closely enough to realize that he's been mostly quiet since his quick reaction to the Varnum v Brien decision on April 3. Where Iowans Rock goes wrong is assuming that a "platform for traditional marriage" could be a ticket to victory for Republicans in 2010.
The most recent poll on the subject shows that a majority of Iowans support some form of legal recognition for same-sex couples (either marriage or civil unions). There's a big generation gap on this issue, with Iowans under age 30 much more supportive of marriage equality.
The National Organization for Marriage is trying to sow fear about same-sex marriage in this tv ad, which has been called out for distorting the facts and brutally parodied on the Colbert Report. As time goes on, more and more Americans will understand that their own freedom isn't threatened by other people's marriages.
Strawn was elected Republican Party chairman on a pledge to appeal to younger and more tech-savvy voters. He must understand that in the long term, the crusade against gay marriage is a political loser for the Republican Party, which has done very poorly among young voters in the last two general elections.
Former John McCain campaign adviser Steve Schmidt recently called on the Republican Party to support gay marriage, for both substantive and political reasons. I don't expect Republican leaders to heed Schmidt's call, but if I were Strawn, I would be concerned that going all-out against marriage equality could eventually backfire on Republicans. If they want to start winning statewide elections in Iowa, Republicans need to reach beyond the crowd who shows up to cheer Bill Salier and Bob Vander Plaats.
Speaking of Vander Plaats, I saw at The Iowa Republican that he is advertising on the Drudge Report. The ad shows two wedding rings and asks,
"Should Iowa Allow Gay Marriage?" When you click on the ad, it takes you to Vander Plaats' website where you are asked for your name, email address, zip code, and give you an opportunity to answer to the question. Once you fill out the form, you are asked if you would like to donate to his campaign.
Note to self: check next quarter's FEC report for Vander Plaats to see how much he raises from out of state donors. I would love to see him raise millions and scare other Republicans out of running for governor next year. I don't think Vander Plaats is the kind of candidate who can beat Chet Culver.
And speaking of cashing in on the Iowa Supreme Court ruling, I was in the hip "East Village" of Des Moines on Friday and bought a Peace Love Iowa t-shirt from Smash. (The date 3 April 2009 is in small print under the shape of Iowa.) They are also selling 4.3.09 Iowa Is Now Finally As Gay As Connecticut and Iowa: the California of the United States. Word to the wise: these shirts run small, so order a larger size than you normally would.
I'll end this long post with two links worth your time. The Washington Post told the story of how Lambda Legal attorney Camilla Taylor and others spent seven years laying the ground work for the recent Iowa Supreme Court decision. Three cheers for skilled legal research and brief-writing!
If you missed sgarystewart's diary on the real threat to Iowa marriages and his letter to a GOP state senator, please click the link and read his powerful story.
This thread is for any comments or opinions about the same-sex marriage debate in Iowa.