Between now and the end of the 2010 legislative session, self-styled “defenders of marriage” will urge Democrats in the Iowa House and Senate to approve a constitutional amendment banning same-sex couples from marrying. Bryan English, director of public relations and outreach for the Iowa Family Policy Center, wrote a guest post for The Iowa Republican blog about his recent efforts to convince Democratic State Senator Dennis Black (district 21).
English and I disagree on most political issues, including the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling in Varnum v Brien, but in this piece he shines a light on talking points Democrats should avoid when confronted by opponents of marriage equality.
Upon learning that I work at IFPC Action, Senator Black immediately began to assure me that he is a supporter of marriage between one man and one woman. I thanked him for his support for marriage, and then asked him to explain what that means to him.
He replied with what had all the markings of a well rehearsed speech that had been delivered to constituents on countless occasions. He said, “I’m probably stronger in my support of marriage than you! I believe that marriage ought to be one man and one woman, one time.”
Again, I was extremely encouraged to hear this from a member of the Iowa Senate, and especially encouraged to hear it from a member of the Democrat caucus. I assured him that we were on the same page in our understanding of what marriage is, and so I asked him what he intended to do about it.
The Senator told me that he had spoken to Senator [Mike] Gronstal, and encouraged him to allow the Iowa Marriage Amendment to come to the floor for a vote, but that he was fairly certain the leadership would never allow that to happen. As before, it seemed that his answers to my questions were well rehearsed. He appeared to anticipate each one, and had his talking points all ready to go. His message: “I support marriage as much as you, but there is just nothing I can do about it.”
English contends that senators could force a floor vote on a marriage amendment by suspending the Senate rules, but Black countered that there would be “chaos” in the Senate if he were to do that, and anyway, “A vote on a procedural maneuver is not perceived by most people as a real vote on the marriage amendment.”
English then describes step-by-step how senators could suspend the rules. He concludes,
This is not a difficult process. Any senator who has been entrusted with writing laws can certainly understand how to use the above mentioned rules. The consistent hang-up is not their inability to understand the rules but rather their dedication to “senate tradition” above all else.
Speaking of hang-ups, why are people like English so upset about sharing rights with gays and lesbians? No other couple’s loving commitment is a threat to my marriage, and no one is forcing English’s church to recognize same-sex unions.
But I digress.
English’s advice to state senators is misguided, because he ignores the likely consequences of suspending Senate rules in order to bring a marriage amendment to the floor. GOP State Senator Randy Feenstra left a comment in the thread at the Iowa Republican explaining how blowing up Iowa Senate protocol could come back to hurt Republicans.
That said, Black’s response to English was a cop-out. If you contacted your district’s lawmaker on an issue of great personal importance, would you respect an answer like this?
I agree with you, but my caucus leader has tied my hands on this one.
I would love to vote for that bill, but I won’t help the people trying to move it forward.
I don’t expect every statehouse Democrat to welcome marriage equality the way Senate Majority leader Gronstal and House Speaker Pat Murphy did, and I know Gronstal’s not afraid to take political heat on this issue. However, passing the buck to him just makes senators like Black look weak and unprincipled.
What if Black had said something along these lines instead?
I’m probably stronger in my support of marriage than you. I believe that marriage ought to be one man and one woman, one time.
But I’m not trying to make it illegal for other people to get divorced and remarried, and I’m not going to take away anyone’s right to a civil marriage in this state either. You and I might not like it, and our churches don’t have to accept it, but that’s the way it is.
I hear you, and I’m not comfortable with gay marriage either. Then again, just because I don’t approve of someone’s relationship doesn’t mean I can stop them from getting married.
To tell you the truth, I wasn’t too happy about that court ruling either. To me, marriage has always meant one man and one woman. But then I got to thinking, how does it hurt me if two adults go down to the courthouse to get married? I’m not going to stand in their way.
In this thread, please post your own ideas about how Democratic legislators should respond when confronted by someone who wants Varnum v Brien overturned. Whatever their personal comfort level with same-sex relationships, all Democrats should agree not to write discrimination into our state’s constitution. If so, they shouldn’t be telling people like English, “I’d love to help you, but there’s nothing I can do.”
P.S.- I got a laugh out of the graphic The Iowa Republican posted next to English’s piece, which depicted Senator Black as Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof.” The idea was to mock Black because he defers to Senate tradition instead of fighting all-out to end same-sex marriage. But who’s really acting like Tevye here? That is, who’s waging a futile battle to impose their religious and cultural views about marriage on people who don’t share those views? The Iowa Family Policy Center and their allies.
P.P.S.- At the Iowa Family Policy Center’s blog last month, English assailed Doug Gross and other Republicans who want the GOP to downplay social issues. It will be interesting to see whether this group goes all-out against former Governor Terry Branstad in the gubernatorial primary. The business Republicans who recruited Branstad to run for governor are among those trying to put social issues on the back burner for Republican candidates, and so far Branstad has avoided expressing an opinion about the marriage issue.
UPDATE: Christopher Patton has a good suggestion: “Democrats should also point out that over 90% of Iowans say same-sex marriage has had no effect on them.” That’s according to last month’s Iowa poll by Selzer and Co. for the Des Moines Register.