Six Iowa Republicans who may live to regret marriage vote

After a crowded public hearing last night and about three hours of floor debate today, the Iowa House approved House Joint Resolution 6, a constitutional amendment that would ban all legal recognition for same-sex relationships in Iowa. All 59 Republicans present voted for the amendment, as did three House Democrats who represent rural districts: Kurt Swaim, Dan Muhlbauer and Brian Quirk. The bill now goes to the Iowa Senate, where Majority Leader Mike Gronstal has pledged to keep it from receiving a floor vote.

Many of the 37 House Democrats who voted no on the amendment took to the floor to speak out against the bill. You can read excerpts from their remarks here, here, here and here. (UPDATE: Several of the House Democrats’ speeches from the chamber are on YouTube as well.)

In contrast, only a few Republicans gave prepared remarks supporting the amendment, including lead sponsor Dwayne Alons (rarely afraid to say something ridiculous) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rich Anderson. Anderson justified the amendment as serving the state’s interest in promoting childbearing:

“We want to drive procreation into a stable relationship and procreation only happens between a male and a female. See a male and a female can do something that a homosexual couple cannot: They can create children accidently. That’s the issue. It’s not about love. It’s not about romance. It’s about driving state policy toward responsible procreation.”

The Iowa Supreme Court addressed and rejected that argument on pages 59 and 60 of the Varnum v Brien ruling. Anderson also raised the familiar “slippery slope” concern that legal same-sex marriage would lead to state recognition of incestuous and polygamous unions. No one’s tried to do that in the other four U.S. states that recognize same-sex marriages, or in Canada or any of the European countries that do the same.

Given how strongly the Republican base supports overturning same-sex marriage rights, I was surprised more Republicans weren’t eager to explain their votes on the House floor. Tea party favorites Kim Pearson and Glen Massie even declined to yield to a question from Democrat Nathan Willems on whether the equal protection clause applies to all Iowans. House Majority Whip Erik Helland “answered” Willems’ question, but in a non-responsive way.  

It got me wondering: deep down, are they not proud of what they’re doing? Perhaps some of them secretly agree with former Republican State Senator Jeff Angelo, who has changed his position on marriage equality and now views a constitutional amendment as “government intrusion in the lives of law-abiding citizens.” Rarely do legislators vote to change the constitution, and Iowa has never before approved an amendment to limit the rights of citizens. If House Republicans believe the public interest demands putting minority rights up for a majority vote, they owe us compelling arguments.

Politically, it was probably wise for House Republicans to keep quiet during today’s debate. Many must realize that they’re on the wrong side of history, as public opinion polls show increasing support for same-sex marriage rights. A “loud and proud” statement for the public record supporting this bill could be embarrassing 10 or 20 years from now.

Still, I wonder if voting for House Joint Resolution 6 will ever become a political liability for any of today’s Republican lawmakers. During the 1980s and 1990s, decades-old opposition to school desegregation or other policies of the civil rights era occasionally became a campaign issue. I remember many politicians apologizing for things they said or votes they took in the 1960s and 1970s. During the 2008 presidential race, Republican candidate John McCain felt compelled to admit he had been “wrong” to oppose a holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

After the jump I discuss a half-dozen members of the Iowa House Republican caucus who may one day wish they’d had the courage to be out in front accepting marriage equality.

I had two criteria in drawing up this list: the Republican had to be young enough to be a plausible candidate for higher office 15 to 30 years down the road, and had to live in a part of Iowa that is already relatively tolerant of marriage equality. I haven’t seen any polling of the issue at the local level, but I consider the 2010 vote on judicial retention to be roughly indicative of how strongly Iowans opposed the Varnum v Brien ruling. This map shows the judicial retention vote by county. A majority of voters sought to retain Iowa’s Supreme Court justices in nine of the 99 counties, suggesting that in those counties only a minority of voters were outraged about marriage equality.

Several young members of the Iowa House represent largely conservative counties. For instance, Matt Windschitl (House district 56) and Jason Schultz (House district 55) are only 27 and 28 years old, respectively, and both seem ambitious enough to run for higher office someday. But they don’t make my list, because if they run for the state Senate or Congress in western Iowa someday, having a record of opposing same-sex marriage is unlikely to hurt them.

By the same token, Mark Lofgren (House district 80, Muscatine County), Walt Rogers (House district 20, Black Hawk County) and Bob Hager (House district 16, including Winneshiek County) all represent districts where a relatively high proportion of Iowans rejected last year’s campaign against Iowa Supreme Court judges. However, those representatives don’t make my list because they’re all pushing 50 and therefor are unlikely to run for higher office decades from now.

In alphabetical order, here are six Republicans on my list:

Peter Cownie is a second-term state legislator from House district 60, covering most of West Des Moines. The suburban area in Polk County leans to the GOP but has traditionally elected socially moderate Republicans. Cownie is the son of the well-connected Jim Cownie and the husband of a recent Terry Branstad appointee. At only 30 years old, Cownie may have a long political career ahead.

Pat Grassley is serving his third term in the Iowa House at age 27. I’ve long believed Senator Chuck Grassley sought a sixth term last year in part because his grandson wasn’t yet old enough to run for the U.S. Senate. Pat Grassley didn’t draw a Democratic opponent in Iowa House district 17 last year, because Butler and Bremer counties are in a strong Republican pocket of northeast Iowa. However, if he ever wants to run for Congress, he would be in a district where the population centers are more socially liberal.

Chris Hagenow is a second-term representative from House district 59, covering the Des Moines suburbs of Clive, Windsor Heights and part of West Des Moines. He’s just 39 years old and considered likely to seek higher office. Hagenow works with former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker in Iowa’s most politically ambitious law firm. The Des Moines area has a large LGBT community, and even some wealthy GOP-leaning areas in Hagenow’s district voted yes on retaining the Supreme Court justices last year. Polk County will only grow more accepting of same-sex marriage.

Erik Helland is only 30 years old but has already risen to the post of Iowa House majority whip. He represents House district 69, covering suburban and rural areas in northern Polk County. Like Hagenow, he’ll need a strong base in Polk County if he ever runs for Congress.

Renee Schulte is in her second term representing House district 27, which covers part of Cedar Rapids in Linn County. The Cedar Rapids area is welcoming toward same-sex couples. Schulte is only 40 years old and could have a long political career ahead of her, if redistricting doesn’t put her in a Democratic-leaning House district very soon. She won re-election comfortably in 2010 but carried her swing district by just 13 votes in 2008.

Nick Wagner is a second-term state representative from House district 36, covering some suburban and rural areas in Linn County. He’s only 37 years old and could run for the state Senate or perhaps Congress someday.

What do you think, Bleeding Heartland readers? Will these or any other Iowa Republicans ever be embarrassed that they voted for House Joint Resolution 6? Or will voting against marriage not carry the same stigma in the future as opposing civil rights policies has? Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

Bonus prediction: the Iowa Republican most likely to renounce his support for the marriage amendment someday is former gubernatorial candidate Christian Fong. His political base is in Cedar Rapids. He has personally experienced bigotry and values inclusive, non-shaming political rhetoric. I could easily imagine him giving a speech like Jeff Angelo’s someday.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned that if any elected Republican were brave enough to oppose this constitutional amendment, he or she would face a certain primary challenge in 2012. It may be a long time before it is safe for Iowa Republicans to appear to tolerate marriage equality.

SECOND UPDATE: Angelo posted the full text of his remarks at the House hearing at his blog.

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  • Impossible to predict

    Anderson also raised the familiar “slippery slope” concern that legal same-sex marriage would lead to state recognition of incestuous and polygamous unions. No one’s tried to do that in the other four U.S. states that recognize same-sex marriages, or in Canada or any of the European countries that do the same.

    No one believed that gay marriage would exist in 1971.  How can we possibly predict what will be socially acceptable in 2051?

    On his program today, Bradshaw remarked that consenting adults shouldn’t be denied the right to a legally recognized relationship.  But I assume he doesn’t believe in true marriage equality (by definition) for all, which would include adult three-way relationships.

    Fifty years from now, perhaps people will view him as a bigot, because he didn’t believe in marriage equality for everyone, including all minorities, even the ones that the GLBT community doesn’t wish to advocate for.

  • I suspect you are right

    about many R’s knowing somewhere deep down that they are on the wrong side of history on this one. Especially if they are paying any attention to the younger generation, even in their own party. Barbara Bush (the younger one) being the latest example of this.

    • "People should vote"

      Of course they are embarrassed by their support of bigotry like this.  That’s why so often they merely say “Voters should decide” instead of saying “We abhor gay marriage.”

      Twenty years from now a sound bite of the words “Let the people vote” will sound innocuous.  

  • Silence is deafening

    As much crazy talk as comes out of the mouths of Arons and Anderson, at least they say something–however ridiculous it is. Those that remained silent don’t have the…gumption to go on record to defend their vote and that’s as shameful as it comes.

    No one can predict what society will look like 10-20 years from now so it’s high time that politicians be on the right (i.e. correct haha) side of history rather than have an epiphany in 20 years that they were on the wrong side of history with their votes.

  • Grassley

    Given his grandfather’s propensity to at least bring dollars back to Iowa and his occasional willingness to work on tax proposals with “conservadems” does Pat view his only path through a future primary to  be adodge to the right?

    Cownie is extremely popular.  I drove through a large portion of his district and he had signs up in what seemed like every house.