Republicans fail to bring marriage amendment to Iowa House or Senate floor

Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate failed this morning to force floor votes on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. In the Senate, minority leader Paul McKinley asked colleagues “to sign a petition that would allow Senate Joint Resolution 2001, which would begin the process of amending the state’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage, to be brought to the Senate floor for a vote despite not being approved by a committee.” Only one of the 32 Iowa Senate Democrats (Tom Hancock) joined the 18 Republicans in signing this petition.

Later this morning, House Republicans tried a procedural maneuver that could have allowed a floor vote on House Joint Resolution 6 (a constitutional amendment on marriage) despite the fact that no House committee has approved it. The procedural motion needed 51 votes to pass, but only one Democrat, Dolores Mertz, voted with the 44 House Republicans. Mertz is a co-sponsor of the marriage amendment and votes consistently with Republicans on social issues.

Last April, two Democrats (Mertz and Geri Huser) joined with House Republicans on a similar procedural vote. Good for Huser for voting with the majority this time around. One House Democrat was absent today: Mark Kuhn, who also missed yesterday’s proceedings in the chamber. It seems likely that he is either sick or was unable to get to Des Moines from his home in rural Floyd County. North-central Iowa just got hit with another major winter storm.

House Republican leader Kraig Paulsen acknowledged today that opponents of marriage equality don’t have the 51 votes needed to force a vote this session in the Iowa House.

McKinley warned in a statement, “the voters this November will have an opportunity to decide if they are content with the continued Democrat obstruction and inaction.” Republicans keep saying they want to “let the people vote” on marriage. As it happens, this November Iowans will have an opportunity to pass a ballot initiative on convening a constitutional convention. Some Republicans want to take that route, but most are afraid to back a constitutional assembly. It seems like they want a campaign issue to use against Democrats more than they want to amend the constitution by the quickest means possible.

Unfortunately for Republicans, recent polling data suggests gay marriage is not a high priority for most Iowans. Every statehouse Democrat should be echoing the words from House Speaker Pat Murphy’s official statement today:

“In these tough economic times, Iowans want the Legislature to keep focused on help for middle class families and small businesses.  In this shortened session, my goal is to keep the House focused on key priorities — balancing the state budget without raising taxes while creating good-paying jobs for Iowans and making sure every child receives a quality education and affordable health care.”

Murphy and Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal strongly supported the Iowa Supreme Court’s Varnum v Brien ruling, and they deserve a lot of credit for holding their caucuses together today. As Gronstal has promised, Republicans will not succeed in writing discrimination into our state’s constitution.

In related good news, the New Hampshire House Judiciary Committee voted down two bills today that were aimed at repealing same-sex marriage rights in that state.

UPDATE: Jason Clayworth has more details and reaction at the Des Moines Register’s blog.

The House spent almost 30 minutes on a rarely used “call-of-the-House” in which each of the 100 members were ordered into the chambers to vote unless they were previously excused.  

Hancock explained why he joined the Senate Republicans as follows: “I live in a highly Catholic area and I think that’s what the folks wanted me to do […] I never received that many contacts to say not to.”

Pat Murphy said Republicans “can go ahead and use” the House vote in the upcoming campaign, but added, “I would advise Republicans that ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’”  

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Terry Branstad's balancing act on gay marriage

In a private meeting last October, Terry Branstad warned social conservatives that gay marriage was “not going to be a central issue” in the gubernatorial campaign, and that Republicans “have to use finesse, and not overplay our hand.”

Since Branstad officially launched his candidacy last week, we’re starting to see how he intends to “finesse” the marriage issue before the Republican primary in June.

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The coming battle to amend the Iowa Constitution

There’s nothing opponents of marriage equality can do to stop gay and lesbian couples from getting married in Iowa starting on April 24. Over at Daily Kos, Wee Mama posted information about getting a marriage license in Iowa for those who live elsewhere. If you would like to have a religious ceremony, I recommend contacting The Interfaith Alliance of Iowa for help in finding a sympathetic officiant, most likely to be from a United Church of Christ, United Methodist or Unitarian Universalist congregation. Couples wanting a Jewish wedding should contact Rabbi David Kaufman of Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Des Moines, if at least one partner is Jewish and the couple is open to raising children as Jews. Rabbi Kaufman has officiated at a same-sex commitment ceremony and published this blog post on Friday demolishing the arguments against legalizing gay marriage in Iowa.

The political battle over marriage equality will go on for a long time after wedding bells start ringing.

After the jump I will bring you up to date on prospects for amending Iowa’s constitution and the latest statewide opinion poll on same-sex marriage.

UPDATE: Scroll to the bottom of this post to read a very strong statement Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal released the evening of April 6.  

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