Iowa Catholic Conference backs constitutional convention, not ousting judges

The Iowa Catholic Conference this week endorsed a ballot initiative calling for a constitutional convention, which church leaders view as a path to banning same-sex marriages. Democrats have blocked several efforts to bring a marriage amendment to the floor of the Iowa House and Senate.

More details on Catholic advocacy against marriage equality are after the jump.  

Iowa Catholic Conference spokesman Tom Chapman explained why church leaders favor a constitutional convention:

“The main reason is we really haven’t been able to have a debate on the marriage issue at the legislature,” Chapman says. “I think the idea would be is that this issue would hit the floor at the legislature, Let’s have a vigorous debate about what’s the direction we should go on marriage and kind of go from there but, simply, that hasn’t happened, so we look at the constitutional convention as a way to have that discussion.” […]

The Iowa Catholic Conference is not getting involved in the retention election involving three of the Iowa Supreme Court justices who joined in the 2009 opinion which legalized gay marriage. “We’re very careful not to advocate for, support any or oppose any candidates or political parties and so we don’t want to get involved in that.”

The state’s four Catholic bishops are sending out a flier on “Faithful Citizenship” that includes the call for a constitutional convention, along with a request that Catholics consider other key issues, like “taking a stand on the side of the poor” and being advocates for federal immigration reform.

I honestly don’t see why the Iowa Catholic Conference is so determined to ban same-sex marriages. The Varnum v Brien decision explicitly states that churches are not required to perform or recognize same-sex marriages. Why can’t Catholic churches ignore same-sex marriages the way they don’t acknowledge most civil divorces?

That said, if the Catholic Conference is going to get involved in the marriage fight, I’d rather have them push for a constitutional convention than work against Supreme Court justices or state legislators who refused to let a constitutional amendment come to the floor. Aside from a couple of Republican bloggers, there’s not much organizational muscle behind getting Iowans to approve the constitutional convention, which automatically appears on the ballot every 10 years. A convention would be the fastest way to amend the Iowa constitution, but the Republican establishment has shown little enthusiasm for the process, fearing that Democratic legislative leaders would use a convention to push their own pet issues.

Former gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats is leading a well-funded effort to oust three Iowa Supreme Court judges, but makes this case against calling a convention:

[Vander Plaats] said his group will stay completely focused on the judicial retention issue.

“If we confuse it or make it more difficult than it is, it will only dilute our effort,” he said, noting that a constitutional amendment or convention does nothing to hold the courts in check.

Vander Plaats said if Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, and House Speaker Pat Murphy, D-Dubuque, are in charge of a constitutional convention, the entire constitution is opened up under their leadership. He said the marriage amendment would never get addressed, but repeal of right-to-work would. He also said Democratic leaders could choose to hold the convention on Christmas Eve or during the Iowa State Fair.

“In my view it is a reckless proposition and you’re opening up the constitution. You’re opening up the entire constitution. I’m concerned about that,” said Vander Plaats, who said it would muck everything up. “I would be very surprised if a people vote for a constitutional convention. I would be shocked.”

For once Vander Plaats and I agree on something. The constitutional convention ballot initiative failed by a 2-1 margin in 2000 and by nearly a 3-1 margin in 1990. I would be shocked if it passes this year.

I’m much more concerned about the anti-judge campaign. The National Organization for Marriage spent $235,000 on statewide television ads urging Iowans to vote “no” on retaining the Supreme Court justices. American Family Association Action is spending $200,000 on that campaign as well.

While the Iowa Catholic Conference isn’t taking a position on the judges, other Catholic organizations may be indirectly involved in that campaign. Jesse Zwick reported this week at Iowa Independent that the Knights of Columbus gave $1.4 million to the National Organization for Marriage in 2009:

The NOM donation eclipses what the Knights of Columbus’ Supreme Council spent on some of its own charitable programs – such as its new effort supporting food banks or its total spending on education initiatives – in the same year, much to the outrage of some observers, including Catholic groups.

“It was a fairly simple, straightforward decision,” says Patrick Korten, vice president for communications for the Knights. “We are pro-family, and believe strongly in the defense of marriage. NOM is the single most important group engaged in defending marriage.”

In addition to working against the Iowa Supreme Court judges on the ballot this November, the National Organization for Marriage is likely to spend significant resources supporting Republican candidates in some battleground Iowa House and Senate districts.

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