Early reaction from Iowa Democrats to the Varnum v Brien ruling (updated)

Numerous politicians and interest groups have issued statements since the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously paved the way for legal gay marriage by striking down Iowa’s 1998 Defense of Marriage Act. Iowa Politics has links to many of the statements, as well as Iowa blog posts on today’s ruling, and I’ve also received some statements via e-mail.

Click “there’s more” to read the statements from key Iowa Democrats and watch a video featuring the only openly gay Iowa legislator.

I will write a separate post later on Republican reaction to the Iowa Supreme Court ruling.

I couldn’t be more pleased with the joint statement from Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy, so here’s the whole thing. I couldn’t choose just one excerpt:

“Thanks to today’s decision, Iowa continues to be a leader in guaranteeing all of our citizens’ equal rights.

“The court has ruled today that when two Iowans promise to share their lives together, state law will respect that commitment, regardless of whether the couple is gay or straight.

“When all is said and done, we believe the only lasting question about today’s events will be why it took us so long.  It is a tough question to answer because treating everyone fairly is really a matter of Iowa common sense and Iowa common decency.

“Today, the Iowa Supreme Court has reaffirmed those Iowa values by ruling that gay and lesbian Iowans have all the same rights and responsibilities of citizenship as any other Iowan.

“Iowa has always been a leader in the area of civil rights.

“In 1839, the Iowa Supreme Court rejected slavery in a decision that found that a slave named Ralph became free when he stepped on Iowa soil, 26 years before the end of the Civil War decided the issue.

“In 1868, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that racially segregated “separate but equal” schools had no place in Iowa, 85 years before the U.S. Supreme Court reached the same decision.

“In 1873, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled against racial discrimination in public accommodations, 91 years before the U.S. Supreme Court reached the same decision.

“In 1869, Iowa became the first state in the union to admit women to the practice of law.

“In the case of recognizing loving relationships between two adults, the Iowa Supreme Court is once again taking a leadership position on civil rights.  

“Today, we congratulate the thousands of Iowans who now can express their love for each other and have it recognized by our laws.”

That sends a very strong message to the public as well as to wavering Democratic legislators. Leadership is going to block any attempt to pass a constitutional amendment restricting marriage equality. Judging from how well they’ve stifled advocates of clean elections reform or local control of CAFOs, I think we can be confident that a Proposition 8-style bill is off the table for 2010 as well as 2009.

State Senator Matt McCoy is the only openly gay member of the Iowa legislature, and the Senate Democrats posted a video of McCoy explaining “why Iowa won’t go backwards on marriage rights.” Watch it:

I loved his line at the end, urging all Americans, gay or straight, to come to Iowa to get married. I found Des Moines a great place to get married. We were able to have a large rehearsal dinner and wedding reception for what a small wedding might cost in a large city on the coasts.

Governor Chet Culver released a short and cautious statement:

“The decision released this morning by Supreme Court addresses a complicated and emotional issue, one on which Iowans have strong views and opinions on both sides. The next responsible step is to thoroughly review this decision, which I am doing with my legal counsel and the Attorney General, before reacting to what it means for Iowa.”

I would have liked to see a more supportive statement from the governor, but ultimately, his view on this matter is less important than that of Gronstal and Murphy. Constitutional amendments do not need to be signed by the governor, and I don’t expect Culver to put his political weight behind a drive to overturn the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling. That would be idiotic.

Iowa’s Democrats in Congress urged respect for the court’s decision and acknowledged the importance of extending marriage rights to gays and lesbians. Senator Tom Harkin said,

“My personal view has been that marriage is between a man and a woman, and I have voted in support of that concept.  But I also fundamentally believe that same sex couples in a civil union should be entitled to all the basic legal protections and benefits of marriage.  The Court found that it is necessary to afford same sex couples the ability to marry in order to allow them those legal protections and benefits.  I will respect and support that decision and I hope that other Iowans can do the same.  I know that this decision will be very hard for many to accept but I also know that it will provide many committed same sex couples and families important rights, as well as an important sense of recognition and belonging.”  

Congressman Dave Loebsack’s statement:

“Today is an important day for many Iowa families.  The beliefs of every Iowan should be respected and I understand that many people have strong opinions regarding this issue. The unanimous Supreme Court decision should be respected as a continuation of  Iowa ‘s long standing national leadership in ending discrimination and protecting the rights of all of our citizens.”

Congressman Bruce Braley’s statement:

“While Iowans will disagree over today’s historic Supreme Court ruling, it’s important to remember that we’re all neighbors,” Braley said.  “The Court unanimously found that gay couples are entitled to equal protection under the Iowa Constitution.  This ruling marks a big change in how our state defines marriage, which is both unsettling to many Iowans and welcome to many others.  Either way, we must come together as Iowans to resolve our differences on this divisive issue and ensure that no Iowan is discriminated against because of race, creed, sex, or sexual orientation.”

I haven’t received a statement from Congressman Leonard Boswell’s office, but I am on their recipient list now, so I will update this post with the statement when I get it.

UPDATE: Here’s the brief and sensible statement from Boswell.

“I remain consistent in my belief that this is a decision best suited for the states.  I respect the decision of the court.”

SECOND UPDATE: Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller released this statement:

The Court has issued a clear and well-reasoned opinion. I believe that the Supreme Court’s decision is right, based on Iowa Constitutional law principles regarding equal protection. It is noteworthy that the decision was unanimous.

Our office is working with state and local government on practical questions of implementing the decision. As the decision itself noted, it takes effect in 21 days, on April 24 when procedendo issues, if there is no petition filed for rehearing. [end]

The Attorney General’s Office has advised county recorders/registrars as follows on implementation of the Court’s decision:

The Iowa Supreme Court held today that the Iowa statute which limits civil marriage to a union between a man and a woman is unconstitutional. The Court ordered that the unconstitutional language of this statute — Iowa Code section 595.2(1) — must be stricken and the remaining statutory language interpreted and applied in a manner which allows gay and lesbian people “full access to the institution of civil marriage.”

The Court’s decision becomes effective upon issuance of a procedendo, which is a separate order from the Court directing the district court to proceed to judgment. A procedendo will issue twenty-one days after the opinion is filed unless a petition for rehearing is filed. [April 24.] Hence, the Court’s ruling does not become effective today and county recorders/registrars may not accept marriage applications from same sex couples nor issue marriage licenses to same sex couples until such time as the procedendo issues.

Upon issuance of the procedendo county recorders/registrars must issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in the same manner as licenses issued to opposite sex couples. In addition, the Iowa Department of Public Health is revising the marriage application, marriage license, and marriage certificate forms to be consistent with the Court’s order and those forms will be available from the Department prior to issuance of the procedendo.

So the boost for Iowa’s hospitality industry begins on April 24.

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  • Culver

    This is more bad news for Culver. Culver has repeatedly said he is against gay marriage, and as late as January said that he would “do whatever it takes to protect marriage between a man and a woman.”.

    If he doesn’t follow through, he’s caught in a lie. If he does, he’s crossing a big segment of the party—who aren’t likely to forget being stabbed in the back in the midst of their celebration. Not that he can really change the situation–but how he deals with it could have big ramifications on 2010.

    And if the Republicans can saddle this decision on him, he’s in big trouble. Let’s not forget to step outside the bubble here. Gay marriage may be the right thing, but it isn’t the popular thing. Not in Iowa as a whole, and especially not in some places. This issue could be election poison.

    • Worse than that for Culver

      In his statement, part of his stall was to try and hide behind Miller – “analyze the decision with my legal counsel and the Attorney General.”

      Oops. Tonight, Miller had none of it, and is praising the opinion as “clear and well-reasoned” and noting its unanimity, reiterating Iowa’s proud tradition of being progessive on civil rights, and pledging to assist with implementation.

      Culver, caught between his own non-progressive prior statements and the prevailing mood of his party, is standing largely alone in no-man’s-land.

      Never a good place for a politician to be.  

      • not a good place

        He has no option but to backtrack on his prior statement. The Republicans will make a big deal out of it, but they weren’t going to vote for Culver anyway.

    • I'm working on my post about GOP reaction

      and am discussing this.

      It wasn’t smart for Culver to take that position then. Following through on that pledge is not an option for him now. He will just have to say his legal counsel advised him not to do anything about the decision. The people who are angry about it were never going to vote for Culver anyway.

      Politicians promise to do lots of things they never get done. We’ll have to add this one to Culver’s list.

      In a strange way, the decision could be good news for Culver if it means that the 2010 gubernatorial nominee is more likely to be a Bob Vander Plaats type than David Vaudt.

      I don’t think gay marriage will be unpopular in Iowa by November 2010 as people assume. Already last year a majority of Iowans were willing to accept civil unions.

  • not all democrats are in favor of the ruling

    Jack Kibbie (president of the state senate) is speaking out against the ruling and says he will vote for a constitutional amendment.


    Since he is my state senator, I’m working on organizing a group of people in my area to lobby him to change his mind.  

    • true, and I expect more like this

      but if Gronstal and Murphy don’t want an amendment to pass, it’s not going to pass. It will be easy to assign it to a subcommittee that will kill it, just like they do every year with the local control bill.