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I got a kick out of Craig Robinson's rewriting of history yesterday, saying Strawn "abdicated" the Iowa GOP chairmanship, but that "some Iowa Republicans still consider him to have been a good chairman, especially in comparison to his successor." Robinson was the loudest voice demanding Strawn's resignation in the wake of the 2012 Iowa caucus vote-counting fiasco. Be careful what you wish for.
In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has determined that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. The ruling means that legally married gay and lesbian couples in Iowa and elsewhere will be entitled to equal treatment under federal law. More than 200 Congressional Democrats, including Senator Tom Harkin and Representatives Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack, signed an amicus curiae brief urging justices to strike down the key provision of the DOMA, adopted in 1996 with overwhelming bipartisan support.
In a separate case, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that backers of California's Proposition 8 did not have standing to appeal a lower-court ruling striking down that ballot initiative. The decision means that LGBT couples will be allowed to marry in California. It does not affect other states' statutory or constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. Braley and Loebsack were among scores of Congressional Democrats who recently posed for the "NoH8" campaign supporting marriage equality and opposing Prop 8.
Excerpts from the DOMA decision and Iowa reaction to today's rulings are after the jump. I will update this post as needed. At this writing, most of the Congressional delegation has not publicly commented on the Supreme Court decisions.
In a decision announced on Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for the Iowa Department of Public Health to refuse to list a non-birthing lesbian spouse on a child's birth certificate. Details on this nearly unanimous ruling are after the jump. I was intrigued by how Governor Terry Branstad's three appointees from 2011 handled this case.
Today the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in United States v. Windsor, a challenge to the constitutionality of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act. Unlike yesterday's hearing on California's same-sex marriage ban, this case will affect many Iowans directly. The court's ruling on DOMA will determine whether thousands of married LGBT couples in Iowa are eligible for benefits granted to married citizens under federal law.
Lots of links are after the jump, but the enduring sound bite from the day will surely be Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's comment: "You're saying [...] there are two kinds of marriages, the full marriage, and this sort of skim milk marriage."
A Polk County District Court Judge has ordered the Iowa Department of Public Health to list a birth mother's same-sex spouse on the child's birth certificate without requiring the non-birthing mother to go through the adoption process.
However, the ruling does not automatically apply to all Iowa same-sex couples seeking to have both parents listed on their children's birth certificates.
Today's forecast calls for rain and cold temperatures in Linn County as Iowa Senate district 18 voters determine whether the Senate will remain Democratic-controlled for the 2012 session or deadlocked at 25-25. The weather doesn't seem bad enough to be a significant factor, but if it does keep some voters home, that's probably good news for Democrat Liz Mathis. She continues to lead Republican Cindy Golding in early voting.
The latest absentee ballot numbers and other news clips from the special election campaign are after the jump.
UPDATE: New absentee numbers for Senate district 18 are below.
More Iowa voters disapprove than approve of Terry Branstad's performance as governor, according to the latest statewide survey by Public Policy Polling. Of 1,109 Iowa voters polled between April 15 and April 17, just 41 percent approved of Branstad's performance, while 45 percent disapproved and 14 percent were not sure. In a hypothetical rematch between Branstad and Governor Chet Culver, 48 percent of respondents said they would vote for Culver, while 46 percent would vote for Branstad. Full results and crosstabs are here (pdf). Branstad was in net positive territory with men (45 percent approve/43 percent disapprove), but women disapproved by a 48-37 margin. The sample doesn't perfectly match the Iowa electorate; I noticed that 38 percent of respondents said they were Democrats, 33 percent said they were Republicans and 29 percent said they were independents. As of April 2011, Iowa has 1,955,217 active voters, of whom 647,060 are registered Democrats (33 percent), 610,006 are registered Republicans (31 percent), and 696,061 are no-party voters (36 percent).
The new survey suggests a plurality of Iowa voters accept marriage equality. Asked "which best describes your opinion on gay marriage," 35 percent of respondents said "gay couples should be allowed to legally marry," 29 percent said "gay couples should be allowed to form civil unions but not legally marry," 33 percent said "there should be no legal recognition of a gay couple's relationship," and 2 percent were unsure. PPP's January survey of Iowa voters asked the question differently and found 41 percent said same-sex marriage should be legal, 52 percent said it should not be legal, and 8 percent were unsure.
UPDATE: Forgot to mention that to my knowledge, Chet Culver's approval ratings didn't fall to the low 40s until the second half of 2009, when he was dealing with a recession, state budget crunch and the film tax credit fiasco.
Last week, a group of conservative Iowa House Republicans finally made good on their promise to introduce articles of impeachment against the four remaining Iowa Supreme Court justices who concurred in the 2009 Varnum v Brien decision on marriage. The impeachment bills won't make it out of committee, let alone the Iowa House, but there may be some political fallout from the effort.
After the jump I examine the articles of impeachment, future prospects for their backers and recent news related to the 2012 judicial retention elections.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced yesterday that the Department of Justice will no longer defend Section 3 of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act in court. Section 3 defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman for federal purposes. It has been challenged in court multiple times, and last July a federal judge ruled the provision unconstitutional. The DOJ appealed that ruling, but Holder announced yesterday that President Barack Obama
has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny. The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional. Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in such cases. I fully concur with the President's determination.
Consequently, the Department will not defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA as applied to same-sex married couples in the two cases filed in the Second Circuit. We will, however, remain parties to the cases and continue to represent the interests of the United States throughout the litigation. I have informed Members of Congress of this decision, so Members who wish to defend the statute may pursue that option. The Department will also work closely with the courts to ensure that Congress has a full and fair opportunity to participate in pending litigation.
I've posted Holder's complete statement after the jump. It notes, "Much of the the legal landscape has changed in the 15 years since Congress passed DOMA." While some conservative commentators were outraged by the announcement, it's important to remember that the Obama administration hasn't stopped enforcing the DOMA despite the president's opinion of the law.
Linda Hirshman argues that Obama has laid a trap for Congressional Republicans, who will look foolish in federal court if and when they defend Section 3. I think she is way too optimistic that the federal appeals process will uphold last year's district court opinion. Hirshman and I may find the legal arguments supporting the DOMA weak, but it would not surprise me to see a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirming the constitutionality of Section 3.
I was surprised to see so little Iowa reaction to Holder's announcement. The outcome of this federal litigation will affect thousands of legally married Iowa same-sex spouses, who would be eligible for some federal benefits if the law is struck down. As far as I know, Senator Chuck Grassley is the only Iowan in Congress to issue a statement on yesterday's news. He's the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he criticized the Obama administration's decision as "clearly based more on politics than the law." He stopped short of promising to help with the DOMA legal defense, but presumably Congressional Republicans who are attorneys will handle that. I posted Grassley's complete statement after the jump.
A new bill, House File 330, would prevent Iowa county recorders from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples "until such time as an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Iowa defining marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman is submitted to the electorate for ratification." The same bill would block the Iowa Supreme Court from considering its constitutionality. There are some pretty big problems with that idea, though:
That outcome: Iowa families could appeal a recorder's decision in trial courts but those decisions would not be able to be appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.
It would make the lower courts ruling final and it would also set up the likelihood that Iowa would have pockets of the state were the law was recognized and others were it was thrown out.
"I think the result is that you would have a hodgepodge of rulings across the state," Bartrum said. "It would depend on whatever the local district judge thought because were would be no uniform appeal."
FRIDAY UPDATE: According to Troy Price of One Iowa, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen has communicated by e-mail that House File 330 is going nowhere. KCRG reports,
Top Republicans on Thursday said they have no plans to debate the issue, viewing it a nod to the party's social conservative wing. [...]
Backers say introducing the measure is one more opportunity to voice their displeasure with how the marriage issue has been handled.
Republican Rep. Betty De Boef says the issue has been handled badly and that some lawmakers want to take every opportunity to make that point.
In related news, Maryland is likely to become the sixth state to grant full marriage rights to same-sex couples. A bill on marriage equality is advancing in the Maryland Senate and has substantial support in that state's House of Delegates. Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley will sign the bill if it reaches his desk.
Washington, DC has recognized same-sex marriages since December 2009. Some U.S. House Republicans are pushing a bill to reverse that policy. If a same-sex marriage ban for the nation's capital cleared the House and the U.S. Senate, Obama would probably veto it given his decision to stop defending DOMA.
Hawaii's new Democratic governor Neil Abercrombie signed a civil unions bill yesterday, bringing the number of states that recognize same-sex civil unions to seven. Republican Governor Linda Lingle vetoed a similar bill in Hawaii last year.
Some opponents of same-sex marriage said the administration's decision could end up helping to preserve the law in court.
"The previous efforts of the Obama administration and DOJ to defend the law were so inadequate as to raise the suspicion that the Justice Department was deliberately throwing the case," said Robert George, a political science professor at Princeton University who opposes same-sex marriage. "Chances are the law will get a robust defense, and I suspect it will withstand constitutional scrutiny." [...]
In his letter to [House Speaker John] Boehner, Holder criticized portions of the congressional debate leading up to the law's passage, saying they had undermined the prospects for defending the measure. "The record contains numerous expressions reflecting moral disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships - precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and animus that the Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against,'' Holder wrote.
Joel Northup, a wrestler for Linn-Mar high school, qualified for the state tournament but defaulted when his bracket paired him with Cassy Herkelman, a girl from Cedar Falls. Herkelman and Megan Black of Ottumwa made history this year by becoming the first girls to qualify for the Iowa high school state wrestling tournament.
Johnson County supervisors voted 5-0 on Thursday to ban firearms and dangerous weapons from buildings, lands and vehicles owned by the county. Some Republicans in the Iowa legislature are pushing a bill that would bar local governments from restricting guns in that manner.
State Senator Mark Chelgren's stupid comments about Iowa's voluntary preschool program for four-year-olds prompted Mr. desmoinesdem to look up information about pre-primary education in the Communist bloc. Contrary to Chelgren's assertion that the Soviets started indoctrinating children early, when "they're so malleable," the USSR provided essentially day care rather than formal education for children under age 7.
The Internal Revenue Service declared this month that breast pumps are a tax-deductible expense, reversing a determination made last fall. A quality pump can cost hundreds of dollars. Pumping has its detractors but can be invaluable for working women who want to continue breastfeeding, or for women whose babies are unable to breastfeed.
Governor Terry Branstad's double-dipping (continuing to draw his $50,000 state pension while receiving a $130,000 salary as governor) made news in Iowa a few days ago. Branstad's communications director, Tim Albrecht, said the governor "made a significant personal sacrifice" by resigning as president of Des Moines University. In that job he had received more than $350,000 per year.
One low-profile story that should be getting more attention is the wide-ranging spending cut bill under consideration in the House of Representatives. H.R. 1 would decimate funding for too many good programs to list in this post. For example, Iowa would lose $12 million in K-12 funding for various programs, $116 million in Pell grant funds, $1.4 million for vocational and adult education, $6.9 million for job training, $1 million for mental health and substance abuse treatment grants, $4.3 million for various low-income housing programs, $28 million in clean water-related funds, $28 million for Community Development Block Grants, and $1.3 million for justice assistance grants. Key transportation programs nationwide would also lose funding, including public transit and high-speed rail.
When I was in middle school, I earned spare money by babysitting for a lot of the neighborhood kids. One of the parents I was employed by was Kim Pearson, one of the sponsors of the bill in the Iowa House to amend the Constitution to ban not only gay marriage, but also civil unions and domestic partnerships. This is my letter to her. (edited somewhat with the recognition that this is now going to a lot of folks who don't know me as well as Kim did, and who likely don't care what I've been up to since I spent a summer taking care of her kids)
After a crowded public hearing last night and about three hours of floor debate today, the Iowa House approved House Joint Resolution 6, a constitutional amendment that would ban all legal recognition for same-sex relationships in Iowa. All 59 Republicans present voted for the amendment, as did three House Democrats who represent rural districts: Kurt Swaim, Dan Muhlbauer and Brian Quirk. The bill now goes to the Iowa Senate, where Majority Leader Mike Gronstal has pledged to keep it from receiving a floor vote.
Many of the 37 House Democrats who voted no on the amendment took to the floor to speak out against the bill. You can read excerpts from their remarks here, here, here and here. (UPDATE: Several of the House Democrats' speeches from the chamber are on YouTube as well.)
"We want to drive procreation into a stable relationship and procreation only happens between a male and a female. See a male and a female can do something that a homosexual couple cannot: They can create children accidently. That's the issue. It's not about love. It's not about romance. It's about driving state policy toward responsible procreation."
The Iowa Supreme Court addressed and rejected that argument on pages 59 and 60 of the Varnum v Brien ruling. Anderson also raised the familiar "slippery slope" concern that legal same-sex marriage would lead to state recognition of incestuous and polygamous unions. No one's tried to do that in the other four U.S. states that recognize same-sex marriages, or in Canada or any of the European countries that do the same.
Given how strongly the Republican base supports overturning same-sex marriage rights, I was surprised more Republicans weren't eager to explain their votes on the House floor. Tea party favorites Kim Pearson and Glen Massie even declined to yield to a question from Democrat Nathan Willems on whether the equal protection clause applies to all Iowans. House Majority Whip Erik Helland "answered" Willems' question, but in a non-responsive way.
It got me wondering: deep down, are they not proud of what they're doing? Perhaps some of them secretly agree with former Republican State Senator Jeff Angelo, who has changed his position on marriage equality and now views a constitutional amendment as "government intrusion in the lives of law-abiding citizens." Rarely do legislators vote to change the constitution, and Iowa has never before approved an amendment to limit the rights of citizens. If House Republicans believe the public interest demands putting minority rights up for a majority vote, they owe us compelling arguments.
Politically, it was probably wise for House Republicans to keep quiet during today's debate. Many must realize that they're on the wrong side of history, as public opinion polls show increasing support for same-sex marriage rights. A "loud and proud" statement for the public record supporting this bill could be embarrassing 10 or 20 years from now.
Still, I wonder if voting for House Joint Resolution 6 will ever become a political liability for any of today's Republican lawmakers. During the 1980s and 1990s, decades-old opposition to school desegregation or other policies of the civil rights era occasionally became a campaign issue. I remember many politicians apologizing for things they said or votes they took in the 1960s and 1970s. During the 2008 presidential race, Republican candidate John McCain felt compelled to admit he had been "wrong" to oppose a holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
After the jump I discuss a half-dozen members of the Iowa House Republican caucus who may one day wish they'd had the courage to be out in front accepting marriage equality.
A busy week at the Iowa legislature kicks off Monday evening with what's sure to be a packed Iowa House hearing on a constitutional amendment to ban legal recognition for same-sex relationships. Groups supporting conservation of Iowa's natural resources have several rallies and lobby days planned during the next two weeks. Those and other event details are after the jump. Please post a comment or send me an e-mail if you know of an event that should be included on this calendar.
Yet another winter storm is heading for Iowa this week, but spring rains aren't too far off. Gardeners and anyone who cares about conserving water and reducing runoff may be interested in a sale of rain barrels (all repurposed to keep waste out of landfills). Proceeds benefit the non-profit 1000 Friends of Iowa, specifically to "support the development of an educational exhibit which focuses on land use and water as it relates to run-off from non-porous surfaces as well as to bring attention to the many uses for collected rain water." Those uses include watering gardens, washing cars and general housecleaning. Click here for more information about the rain barrels and here to order by February 11.
A constitutional amendment to restrict marriage to couples of the opposite sex advanced on January 24 in both a subcommittee of the Iowa House Judiciary Committee and the full committee. House Joint Resolution 6 states, "Marriage between one man and one woman shall be the only legal union valid or recognized in this state." Iowa Republicans have promised for months to approve a constitutional amendment overturning the Iowa Supreme Court's 2009 decision striking down the state's Defense of Marriage Act. This amendment goes further, barring any kind of legal union apart from marriage and therefore any legal recognition for same-sex relationships.
After an emotionally charged subcommittee hearing with more than 200 observers present, Republicans Dwayne Alons and Chris Hagenow voted to advance the amendment, while Democrat Beth Wessel-Kroeschell voted no. Later in the day, the full House Judiciary Committee approved the bill on a 13 to 8 vote. Democrat Kurt Swaim joined all 12 Republicans in voting yes, while the other Democrats on the committee voted no. Click here for a list of House Judiciary Committee members.
Reading the news coverage of yesterday's debate, I was struck by how many misleading talking points were used to justify denying rights and privileges to thousands of Iowans.
Nearly the entire Iowa House Republican caucus is co-sponsoring House Joint Resolution 6, a constitutional amendment that would ban not only same-sex marriages, but also civil unions and domestic partnerships for same-sex couples in Iowa. The bill was introduced today, although the text of HJR 6 is not yet available on the legislature's official website.
Fifty-six of the 60 Republicans in the Iowa House are listed as sponsors of the bill. No Democrats have signed onto the bill as a sponsor.
Rep. Dwayne Alons, R-Hull, is leading the resolution and said he offered it to all Republicans to sign as sponsors as well as some Democrats. Democrats and the four Republicans declined to sign this version, he said.
The four Republicans who declined to sign are Reps Steve Lukan of New Vienna, Peter Cownie of West Des Moines, Scott Raecker of Urbandale and David Tjepkes of Gowrie.
Cownie told the Des Moines Register's Jason Clayworth that he plans to vote for the bill on the House floor, and I assume Lukan, Raecker and Tjepkes will too.
Once upon a time, Republicans pretended they didn't mean to write discrimination into the state constitution, they only wanted to protect a traditional definition of marriage. I'm "shocked, shocked" to learn that Republicans want not only to exclude some couples from civil marriage, but also to foreclose any legal recognition of or protection for same-sex relationships.
That position clearly does not reflect popular opinion in Iowa. Even before the Varnum v Brien ruling, a Hawkeye poll conducted in March 2009 found that 26 percent of Iowans supported same-sex marriage rights and another 28 percent supported civil unions, while just 37 percent opposed any legal recognition of same-sex relationships and 9 percent did not know. An Iowa poll this month by Public Policy Polling did not ask about civil unions but found that 41 percent of respondents supported same-sex marriage rights. In the same poll, 52 percent of respondents said same-sex marriage should not be legal, but presumably a significant portion of that group would back civil unions or some form of legal protection.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal has said he will block any marriage amendment from coming to a vote in the upper chamber, so Iowa House approval is probably the end of the road for House Joint Resolution 6 this session. If the GOP wins an Iowa Senate majority in 2012, this kind of amendment would likely pass in 2013. Republicans would have to hold both chambers of the legislature and pass the bill again in 2015 or 2016 in order to get a marriage amendment on the November 2016 ballot. A simple majority of yes votes would be needed to approve the amendment.
"I think the biggest issue is that if that (a same-sex marriage ban) is carried forward, and then Iowa does civil unions and recognizes that as a substitute status, then, from what I've seen in other states," people would come to consider same-sex civil unions as equal to marriage, Alons said.