Early reaction from Iowa Republicans to the Varnum v Brien ruling

Oliver Willis concisely summarized the religious right’s reaction to the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling in Varnum v Brien:

People getting married: clearly the worst thing in the world. If they’re gay.

I laughed, but in truth it’s not that simple. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza sees the case as “one of those critical moments in the making of the next Republican presidential nominee.” He quotes likely repeat candidates Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee reacting negatively to the ruling.

I’m more interested in how the battle over marriage equality will affect the balance of forces within the Republican Party of Iowa as its leaders attempt to climb out of the very deep hole they’re in.

Join me after the jump for more on the conservative Republican response to Friday’s events. I didn’t see any Republican moderates speaking out in support of the unanimous ruling. Please correct me if I am wrong, because I would like to give credit to such brave souls if they are out there. It’s worth noting that Republican Governor Terry Branstad appointed two of the seven current Supreme Court justices, including the author of the Varnum v Brien decision, Mark Cady.

First, did anyone else find it odd that neither Congressman Tom Latham nor Senator Chuck Grassley released any comment on the court ruling? Again, please correct me if I am wrong, but I didn’t see any statements anywhere on Iowa blogs, and neither of them mentioned the court ruling on their Twitter feeds (Latham is here, and Grassley is here). I know this isn’t a federal policy matter, but it was a story of national importance and interest. All of Iowa’s Democrats in Congress released official statements on the Supreme Court decision. CORRECTION: Here is Latham’s statement (thanks, ragbrai08):

“Because I believe marriage is between a man and a woman, I’m disappointed in the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling today. I expect the Iowa Legislature to address this issue before they adjourn for the year.”

CORRECTION: Radio Iowa published Grassley’s statement:

“I support traditional marriage.  I voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, which was signed into law by President Clinton. It defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman and prevents states from being forced to honor the decisions of other state courts.   I also voted twice in 2006, in the Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor, for a joint resolution that would have amended the federal Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman.  Now, to change what’s happened with the Iowa Supreme Court decision, the state legislature would have to take action.”

As you’d expect, Congressman Steve King made attention-getting and ridiculous remarks:

“This is an unconstitutional ruling and another example of activist judges molding the Constitution to achieve their personal political ends. Iowa law says that marriage is between one man and one woman.  If judges believe the Iowa legislature should grant same sex marriage, they should resign from their positions and run for office, not legislate from the bench.

“Now it is the Iowa legislature’s responsibility to pass the Marriage Amendment to the Iowa Constitution, clarifying that marriage is between one man and one woman, to give the power that the Supreme Court has arrogated to itself back to the people of Iowa. Along with a constitutional amendment, the legislature must also enact marriage license residency requirements so that Iowa does not become the gay marriage Mecca due to the Supreme Court’s latest experiment in social engineering.”

Sure, letting a bunch of people who were already living together make it legal is some major “social engineering.” And residency requirements would hurt Iowa’s hotels, restaurants, and many other businesses that would greatly benefit from an influx in tourism. But no one goes looking for logic in a Steve King statement.

Republican state legislative leaders reacted quickly to yesterday’s news. From Senate Republican leader Paul McKinley:

“The decision made by the Iowa Supreme Court today to allow gay marriage in Iowa is disappointing on many levels. I believe marriage should only be between one man and one woman and I am confident the majority of Iowans want traditional marriage to be legally recognized in this state. Though the court has made their decision, I believe every Iowan should have a voice on this matter and that is why the Iowa Legislature should immediately act to pass a Constitutional Amendment that protects traditional marriage, keeps it as a sacred bond only between one man and one woman and gives every Iowan a chance to have their say through a vote of the people.”  

House Republican leader Kraig Paulsen demanded swift action by the legislature:

“I believe marriage is between one man and one woman and am disappointed in the ruling of the Supreme Court. In 1998, the Legislature overwhelmingly passed bipartisan legislation protecting marriage as between a man and a woman. There is now a divide between the legislative and judicial branches and Iowans should be permitted to weigh in and have the final say on this question.

“In 2007, the Legislature responded immediately when our flag desecration law was ruled unconstitutional, we should act swiftly now and protect the institution of marriage. There is currently a bi-partisan proposal protecting marriage before the legislature (HJR 6) and it should be debated immediately.”

Paulsen and McKinley know a constitutional amendment isn’t going anywhere in the Democratic-controlled chambers, but they need to show the Republican base that they are trying. Some conservative Republicans weren’t happy with these comments from Paulsen the day before the Supreme Court decision:

House GOP Leader Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha said the Legislature should have addressed the issue when the district court ruled Iowa marriage law unconstitutional. Now, he said, the focus in the session’s final week should be on creating jobs and balancing the state budget.

“This Legislature has two jobs – we have to pass a balanced budget and help put Iowans back to work. We haven’t done either one of them,” Paulsen told reporters.

“To the extent that we can get something else done on the side, I’m fine with that. But that’s what we should be focusing our attention on,” he added. “To the extent that we can deal with this, we will. We need to see the decision.”

I am still trying to make sense of Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn’s official statement on the Varnum v Brien decision:

“The sad and simple fact is this decision could have been avoided.  Once clear that Iowa’s marriage law was under attack by the courts and outside interest groups, majority Democrats had every opportunity to advance legislation removing the politics from protecting marriage and placing the decision directly in the hands of Iowa voters.

“Instead, this is yet another example of majority Democrats dodging the tough decisions that responsible legislating requires. Whether it’s unsustainable budgets, job-killing labor legislation, punishing tax increases through elimination of federal deductibility, or failing to lead on defining marriage, Governor Culver and legislative Democrats continue to demonstrate they are completely out of touch with the values of Iowans,” concluded Strawn.

Could putting a minority group’s marriage rights to a popular vote really be construed as “removing the politics” from the situation?

And if same-sex marriage is so “out of touch with the values of Iowans,” as Strawn claims, then why does he accuse Democrats of “dodging the tough decision” by not passing a constitutional amendment to ban the practice? Seems like that would be the politically easy route compared to speaking out strongly in support of the Iowa Supreme Court ruling.

Reactions from leading religious conservatives in Iowa were what you’d expect to hear. RNC committeewoman Kim Lehman urged her Twitter followers to “Pray for Gods mercy.”

Likely gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats also asked his followers to pray but stuck to a political message in his official statement:

“Like hundreds of thousands of Iowans, I respect the rule of law but I am extremely disappointed by the court’s ruling. The Defense of Marriage Act had strong bipartisan support when it was introduced and debated in our legislature. That bipartisan support for traditional marriage between one man and one woman reflected the will of the people then – and reflects the will of the people now. On an issue of this monumental importance to the very foundation of our society, I believe a vote of the people is necessary. I hope the General Assembly will take the required steps to give Iowans a voice is this process on the most basic of issues – and that Governor Culver will take a leadership role to let all Iowans express their opinion.”

In asking Culver to “take a leadership role,” Vander Plaats was exploiting a promise the governor made in January 2008:

Gov. Chet Culver, an opponent of gay marriage, said Friday he would seek a quick response in the Legislature if the Iowa Supreme Court rules that same sex couples have a right to marry.

Culver, speaking after he taped “Iowa Press,” said he doesn’t want to take action before the Supreme Court rules. However, if the court upholds a lower court ruling in favor of gay marriage, he said the Legislature can, and should, respond quickly.

“We’ll do whatever it takes to protect marriage between a man and a woman,” Culver said.

He didn’t rule out a special legislative session to deal with the issue, if the court rules after the Legislature adjourns for the year.

Really dumb move by the governor there. Fortunately, the legislature is in session now, so he doesn’t need to publicly backpedal on the pledge to call for a special session. Culver didn’t call a special session in response to last summer’s historic flooding, so he obviously wasn’t going to call a special session to deal with this court decision.

But Culver clearly will need to walk back this promise, because he cannot “do whatever it takes” to “protect” heterosexual marriage from the imminent threat of gays and lesbians making their lifetime commitments official. Not when every leading Democrat in this state has either welcomed the ruling or at least called for respecting it. Not when a significant part of the Democratic base enthusiastically supports marriage equality (more than 2,000 people turned out for rallies across the state yesterday to celebrate the ruling).

I expect Republicans to keep reminding Iowans how Culver promised but failed to “protect” them from gay marriage. Conservative bloggers were on this case yesterday and will stay on it, hoping that gay marriage will “save the Republican Party” in 2010.

At the same time, I don’t see this ruling helping the Republican Party rebuild its image. Noneed4thneed nailed it when he twittered on Friday, “All chances for moderate Republicans to get elected in Iowa were dashed today. Social conservatives run Republican Party of Iowa now.”

Republican moderates who already faced an uphill battle against their party’s “goofballs” now have a tougher task ahead if they want GOP candidates to focus on economic issues rather than social issues.

The sometimes-lucid Krusty Konservative wrote yesterday that he blames his own party’s ineffective leadership more than he blames Democrats for the Iowa Supreme Court decision:

Republicans passed the marriage amendment out of the House, twice I think. The Senate, under Sen. Iverson’s leadership, failed to pass the amendment when Republicans were in the majority. Republicans failed to pass it in the Senate by just one vote. So be angry with [former Senate Majority leader Stew] Iverson, or former Republican Senator Doug Shull for voting against it.

Iowa’s marriage laws have been under attack for almost a decade, this is not something that just happened when Democrats took over control over the legislature. Republican’s had their chance to pass a marriage amendment and failed to do so. To be really honest, I’m more upset with them today than I am with the Justices of the Supreme Court, Speaker Murphy, or Mike Gronstal.

Since I’m not going to make any friends today, I might as well pour a little gas on the fire. I’m upset that the legislators tucked tail and ran home to the comforts of their homes when they found out that this decision was going to be announced. Talk about pathetic! The Supreme Court shows total disrespect for a law that you passed and you flee the Capitol? K’mon!

More disappointing were the comments that legislators made yesterday that admitted that nothing would be done to counter the court’s decision this session. Again, pathetic.

If Republican leaders expect Iowa’s social conservatives to channel their anger and help them win elections in 2010, they better be ready to lead on this issue, and they needed to start leading on it this morning. Unfortunately, I don’t see many Republican leaders doing much today besides stating the obvious.

They need to realize that there is a passionate angry mod [sic] outside their door and they have two options. Either they can step up and lead us into battle, or they can continue to ignore us and watch us bust down the door and ransack the Republican Party.

I’m pretty sure Krusty is wrong about Doug Shull. CORRECTION: Shull joined Mary Lundby, Maggie Tinsman and Don Redfern in voting with Senate Democrats to defeat a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in 2004. But he’s right that an amendment passed at that time would have had a good chance of winning popular approval. Even if Republicans were to regain control of the state legislature in 2010 and hold it in 2012, the soonest they could get a marriage amendment to the voters would be 2013 or 2014. I’m with Richard Kim of The Nation, who sees little propsect for a public backlash

after Iowans have witnessed 5-6 years of ho-hum same-sex nuptials of which the most radical, earth-shaking element is that one of the grooms is a 50-year old church organist named Otter Dreaming (one of the named appellees in the Iowa decision).

Nevertheless, I’m sure Krusty speaks for many “konservatives” when he voices his anger at the Republican leadership. No matter what a Republican poll in the field this week reveals about the kind of gubernatorial candidate Iowans want, social conservatives will be outraged if GOP candidates don’t lead the base into a holy war in 2010. From my perspective, that’s not their best ticket for defeating Culver and winning back the legislature.

Please share your own thoughts and comments about how marriage equality in Iowa will affect the Republican Party.

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  • I just wish...

    I knew someone interested in opening a “Bridal Suites” Bed and Breakfast in Kiron, IA, Steve King’s “hometown”.

    It would be nice if we could pick at the “small town” atmosphere by putting a lie to the fear of queer, while bringing a whole lot of cash into the town.


  • Culver did screw up big time

    on this issue.  If he were to stick with his promise to start actively working to overturn the ruling, he could even get a primary opponent.  And knowing how D activists feel about this issue, he could very well lose such a battle.  He’s not that popular among D’s.

    This does put R’s in a real pickle.  I think it’s worse for them than D’s or Culver.  Considering that the reasonable people in the middle are the ones who have been leaving their party in droves, the last thing they need is conservatives foaming at the mouth about gay marriage.  Plus, as Desmoinesdem points out, by the time any ballot initiative could actually be voted on, people won’t care about this silliness.  By then the hospitality industry will likely lobby against a ban.