Ten dishonest talking points on the marriage amendment in Iowa

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.  

1. From State Representative Dwayne Alons, the lead sponsor of House Joint Resolution 6: “This is the direction of the people, by the people, for the people and we should not lose sight of that.”

The Iowa Constitution has never been amended to restrict people’s rights. Making minority rights contingent to a majority vote goes against what this country stands for.

2. Alons also suggested that the public needs to vote on an amendment because the Iowa Code still contains language struck down by the Supreme Court in Varnum v Brien:

Despite the court’s decision, [Alons] said, the definition of marriage – between one man and one woman – remains a part of the Iowa Code, Alons said. The Legislature had a chance to remove that last year when Democrats controlled the House and Senate as well as the governor’s office.

“Your side failed. You didn’t want to touch it,” Alons said.

Ever since the Varnum v Brien decision came down, some Iowa conservatives have been making a big deal about how the Defense of Marriage Act remains part of the Iowa Code. Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady addressed a version of this argument in his condition of the judiciary speech on January 13. Judicial review has been part of our country’s legal system for more than 200 years. When courts strike down a law, legislators are not required to take further action to remove or correct the language at issue.

3. Iowa House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rich Anderson, explaining why he will schedule a public hearing before the full House votes on the constitutional amendment:

“This is one of those really important issues that divide our country,” he said. “I know that our tone and demeanor will be exemplary in helping the people of Iowa and America see how Iowans and Americans can disagree in a context of respect and honor.”

I love when Republicans congratulate themselves for the very gracious way they seek to revoke other people’s rights. Anderson’s remarks reminded me of how onetime gubernatorial candidate Christian Fong used to urge Republicans to talk about the marriage issue in a “respectful and honoring way.” If you really respect and honor diversity of views and experiences, you should understand that the state shouldn’t be picking and choosing which Iowans get to marry their partners.

4. Tom Chapman of Iowa Catholic Conference, the first member of the public to speak at yesterday’s subcommittee hearing:

“We think that that it takes a man and a woman to have a marriage. Marriage is definitely about the emotional desires and needs of adults, it’s about the love people have for one another but we also believe on a very important element it’s about the possibility of bringing children into the world.”

Come on. Thousands of heterosexual couples who get married have no chance or intention to bring children into the world. The Iowa Catholic Conference would never suggest that childless married heterosexuals don’t deserve the legal rights and benefits that go along with marriage.

Chapman explained that the Iowa Catholic Conference’s support for the constitutional amendment “is based on our answer to the question: what is marriage?” But the tenets of Chapman’s church shouldn’t give anyone veto power over civil marriage rights in Iowa. We all have ethical or religious beliefs informing our views on marriage. I may not approve of someone marrying for money, others may not approve of my marrying someone from a different religion, but we don’t get to deny heterosexual couples a marriage license because we disapprove of their relationships.

In any event, hundreds of Iowa clergy support marriage equality and have officiated at gay and lesbian weddings since April 2009. Matt Mardis-LeCroy, minister at Plymouth Congregational Church in Des Moines, told legislators yesterday, “Rabbis, imams, pastors, and priests have debated the meaning of marriage for thousands of years. With all due respect, this one is above your pay grade.”

The Varnum v Brien ruling made clear that churches would not be required to recognize same-sex marriages, nor would clergy be required to officiate at the ceremonies. Just as Iowa statutes relating to divorce have not forced the Catholic Church to change its doctrine on divorce, granting civil marriage rights to all doesn’t restrict anyone’s religious views on marriage.

5. Former legislator Danny Carroll of the FAMiLY LEADER, the umbrella organization including the Iowa Family Policy Center: “we reject evangelical Christians being the brunt of name calling, being called bigots because they simply want the chance to vote on what the definition of marriage is and has been for the last 2,000 years.”

It’s clever for a self-appointed “marriage defender” to put in that qualifier about 2,000 years. That way, Carroll avoids talking about the marriage rules outlined in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament): men taking several wives, men being expected to sire a child by a dead brother’s widow, men and women instructed to marry only within their own tribal clan.

The fact remains that Carroll and his allies want to impose their religious views on the whole state of Iowa. And this isn’t just about the definition of marriage, because House Joint Resolution 6 would also forbid civil unions, domestic partnerships or any legal recognition for same-sex couples.

6. The fuller context of Carroll’s statement to the subcommittee hearing deserves to be cited:

“The people that we represent at the Family Leader and the many hundreds and thousands of Iowans who want a chance to vote on this do so with no malice in [their] hearts. In fact, many of those people would be quick to offer an apology to the homosexual community for the way they have been treated over the decades. For the ridicule and at least verbal if not physical abuse that they have been subject to. We reject that, Mr. Chair. Let me repeat: we reject that just as much as we reject evangelical Christians being the brunt of name calling, being called bigots because they simply want the chance to vote on what the definition of marriage is and has been for the last 2,000 years.”

Carroll gets bonus points for acknowledging that gays and lesbians are a historically disfavored group, but I’m sure the “homosexual community” would happily forgo any apology if FAMiLY LEADER supporters would just stop trying to take people’s rights away.

On a related note, I can’t help including this passage from an e-mail Iowa Family Policy Center President Chuck Hurley sent to supporters yesterday. Technically, it wasn’t a talking point for public consumption, but it reflects sentiments like those Carroll shared at the hearing:

Several of us plan to bring a token of Christian love (like a small bag of cookies or other treats) to share with homosexual activists who we’ll be encountering Monday.  It’s time we dispel lies about Christians, by tangibly showing love to people who struggle with homosexuality.

How generous of them. Here, have a cookie on your way to the back of the bus!

By the way, Mr. Hurley, it’s people like you who “struggle with homosexuality.” You’ve made it part of your life’s work to write your views on homosexuality into the state constitution. People who want to keep discrimination out of the constitution aren’t struggling with their orientation, whether it be heterosexual or LGBT.

7. Carroll makes this list one more time by telling lawmakers yesterday: “We are not necessarily asking you to take a position one way or the other on the issue. We are simply asking you to give the people the right to vote.”

The wording of House Joint Resolution is clear:

“Marriage between one man and one woman shall be the only legal union valid or recognized in this state.”

Voting to advance that bill is not a neutral statement about popular sovereignty. It’s a deliberate step to deny marriage rights or any form of legal recognition to thousands of Iowans.

8. Democratic State Representative Swaim, explaining his vote for the amendment:

“In my opinion we can trust the citizens of Iowa to study and understand the issues,” Swaim said in voting with Republicans. “Iowans are fair, honest and smart. They are up to it. And the bottom line is simply this: The Iowa people are ultimately arbitrators of their own constitution.”

I get that Swaim is in a tough spot politically. He won re-election in House district 94 by only 74 votes (less than 1 percent). In his district’s three counties, the vote against retaining the Iowa Supreme Court justices was over 60 percent in Wayne and Appanoose, and over 70 percent in Davis.

But whether or not Iowans are fair or smart, we don’t put minority rights up to a majority vote in this country. That’s why we have a constitution with an equal protection clause.

9. Look at how Representative Hagenow answered a question from Representative Wessel-Kroeschell during the subcommittee hearing:

Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell: Representative Alons and Hagenow, why do you want to deny loving, committed couples like Larry and David the right to visit one another in a nursing home or hospital?

Hagenow: “I certainly don’t now of any law in the state of Iowa that precludes someone from visiting in the hospital.”

You have to be willfully ignorant not to know that depriving couples of legal recognition wouldn’t jeopardize their future ability to visit each other in a hospital or nursing home. Many couples across the country have experienced this pain. Research on hospital procedures has shown this to be a widespread problem.

Later in the hearing, Hagenow offered this amazing statement:

Rep. Chris Hagenow, R-Windsor Heights, conceded the possibility of legal snarls, and said that could be part of a statewide debate.

“I don’t think that should stand in the way of having the people of Iowa decide this,” said Hagenow.

Liz George had testified to the committee about legal problems she encountered following the death of her partner in 2007. They had been a couple for 21 years, but her partner’s family challenged the will. I cannot imagine facing a legal nightmare while coping with a devastating bereavement. Hagenow’s an attorney, but he doesn’t seem to grasp the concept of Iowans being equal under the law. In his view, legal problems for a few people like Liz George shouldn’t stop a popular vote from deciding her fate.

10. By approving a constitutional amendment on marriage, legislators will reduce the political pressure on the judiciary.

Although I didn’t hear anyone make this argument yesterday, it pops up from time to time. Governor Terry Branstad and Iowa Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley, among others, have suggested that allowing Iowans to vote on the definition of marriage will restore the public’s trust in the judicial system.

According to this line of analysis, the campaign against retaining three Supreme Court justices grew out of frustration that statehouse Democrats were blocking a vote on a marriage amendment. There’s no basis for that revisionist history. Within days of the Varnum v Brien decision, some conservative groups vowed to target the Supreme Court justices who would be on the ballot in 2010.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

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  • Pearson

    Pearson needs to be defeated.  Are liberal groups already gunning for her?  Do we have a candidate already thinking of running regardless of the map?  Huser was just pro-business, that’s no reason to have someone like Pearson in there.  Liberals should have been knocking each other down to get to the voting booth to vote against Pearson despite Huser’s “faults” which don’t seem like faults for a Democrat like me.  

    I will probably be donating against Pearson or is there a more strategic target regardless of the map?  Who’s with me?  

    Curt Swaim almost got taken out in the wave, I understand why he took shelter on this one.  If voters don’t give you cover, you’ve got to cast these kind of votes.  Do you really think the majority of Blue Dog Democrats were really against the health care bill in the U.S. House of Representatives?

    No, but the voters forced their hand as I attempt to draw a parallel.

    • depends on what the map looks like

      House district 42 has a lot of extra population now. I don’t think any Democrat will start running against Pearson until we see what her new district looks like.

      • Let's stay alert on this race

        This woman has no business being elected to the Iowa House.  Her ceiling should have been forty percent given her outspoken nature and propensity to say whatever comes to her mind.  

        I have a feeling other people are already watching her of course.  

        • she won't be left unchallenged

          I am certain of that. Neither will one of the other two musketeers, Massie. Shaw’s district may be heavier lifting for Democrats, don’t know whether he will be targeted.  

  • not quite dishonest

    Come on. Thousands of heterosexual couples who get married have no chance or intention to bring children into the world. The Iowa Catholic Conference would never suggest that childless married heterosexuals don’t deserve the legal rights and benefits that go along with marriage.

    I’m not sure why you think that the Iowa Catholic Conference would never suggest such a thing. For instance, the Catholic Church doesn’t consider marriages to be valid if the couple intends not to have children or if they are incapable of consummation. What Chapman said is very much in line with how the Church views marriage. The Church also believes in promoting (the Catholic understanding of) marriage in the civil world. I assume they’d be in favor of some other reforms if they were on the table (say, getting rid of divorce).

    • really?

      The Catholic Church doesn’t consider a marriage valid if, say, the woman is beyond childbearing years? I am no expert on Catholic doctrine, but I find that hard to believe.

      Even if the church believes such marriages to be invalid, the Iowa Catholic Conference is not out there asking legislators to approve an amendment to take civil marriage rights away from heterosexual couples who don’t intend to have children.

      • sterility is not the problem - impotence is

        There’s no problem with sterility – it’s that you have to be physically capable, at the time of marriage, of performing the particular sexual act which is known to result in children. If a straight couple is permanently and irreversibly impotent, they wouldn’t fit into that category either. Even couples who are believed to be sterile are required to be open to children, but this really isn’t the situation that is analogous to gay couples.

        I imagine that the reason you don’t hear the Iowa Catholic Conference clamoring for doing away with marriage among impotent couples is because it’s a non-starter. It doesn’t have nearly the groundswell of support as opposition to gay marriage. If someone were to offer it as an amendment to the proposed constitutional amendment (I plead ignorance at exactly how this legislative process works), I’ll bet that Chapman would support it. I’ve seen proponents of gay marriage do similar things in a mocking way, but this would be the next test to throw in there to see if they’re serious about the “possibility for children” angle.  

        • thanks

          I learned something new today.

          I still think the Iowa Catholic Conference would have no interest in denying impotent married heterosexuals civil marriage rights such as inheritance protections, being able to file a joint tax return, etc.