Fewer Iowa Senate Republicans eager to ban same-sex marriage

Ever since I saw how few Iowa House Republicans are still co-sponsoring a state constitutional amendment on marriage, I’ve been watching and waiting for Republicans in the state Senate to introduce their version of the same legislation. Any effort to overturn marriage equality will be a dead letter in the Iowa Senate as long as Democrats maintain their majority. Nevertheless, I was curious to see how many (or few) Republican senators are still willing to stand up and be counted on this issue.

Late last week, State Senator Dennis Guth, one of the leading social conservatives in the chamber, finally introduced Senate Joint Resolution 6, “specifying marriage between one man and one woman as the only legal union that is valid or recognized in the state.” Just eleven of the 24 Republicans are co-sponsoring this amendment. That’s a significant drop from two years ago, when three-quarters of the Iowa Senate GOP caucus co-sponsored the marriage amendment.

Looking more closely at who is and is not “loud and proud” about taking rights away from LGBT couples, some patterns emerge.

Background: only four of the 24 current Iowa Senate Republicans have had a chance to vote on a constitutional amendment restricting marriage to one man and one woman. David Johnson and Jerry Behn supported the amendment that failed by one vote in the Iowa Senate in 2004. Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix was a member of the Iowa House when he voted for a 2005 version, which would have banned civil unions as well as same-sex marriages.

State Senator Jason Schultz voted for the marriage amendment that cleared the Iowa House in January 2011. In addition, he found other ways to register his disapproval with the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2009 Varnum v Brien decision. For example, Schultz sought to restore elections for Iowa Supreme Court justices and even tried to ban Iowa judges from citing case law (a real head-scratcher, that bill was).

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal welcomed the Iowa Supreme Court’s landmark decision on marriage and has blocked various attempts to bring any state constitutional amendment on marriage to a vote in the upper chamber.

During the 2011 legislative session, GOP Senator Randy Feenstra introduced a marriage amendment anyway. Although no co-sponsors are listed on the legislature’s website, all of Feenstra’s Republican colleagues signed a petition seeking to force a floor vote on the amendment. Unable to persuade two Democratic colleagues to go along, GOP senators were never able to get 26 signatures on their discharge petition. In any event, Secretary of the Senate Mike Marshall had determined, “There’s no mechanism whereby senators, even a majority of senators, can override the majority leader.”

Following the 2012 elections, the Iowa Senate remained narrowly in Democratic control, so there was no chance of any vote on marriage rights. Still, eighteen of the 24 Senate Republicans co-sponsored a new constitutional amendment on marriage (full text here). Three members of that group retired in 2014 (Sandy Greiner, Hubert Houser, and Nancy Boettger). Joni Ernst moved on to bigger and better things, while Kent Sorenson resigned in disgrace.

Of the thirteen current Republican state senators who co-sponsored the marriage amendment in 2013, nine are still co-sponsoring this year’s version:

Bill Anderson

Jerry Behn

Rick Bertrand

Jake Chapman

Randy Feenstra

Dennis Guth

David Johnson

Ken Rozenboom

Mark Segebart

The other two co-sponsors of the 2015 marriage amendment are Tim Kraayenbrink and Jason Schultz, who were both elected to the Iowa Senate for the first time this past November.

At the risk of sounding rude, the group of one-man, one-woman marriage dead-eners doesn’t include the best and brightest Iowa Republicans. Two years ago, a half-dozen of them (Guth, Bertrand, Johnson, Segebart, Anderson, and Schultz) signed on to one of the most ill-informed legislative efforts I’ve seen as an Iowa politics-watcher.

Their continuing support for a marriage amendment isn’t surprising when you consider the districts they represent. Only Ken Rozenboom lives in the eastern half of the state; Iowa Senate district 40 includes the notoriously conservative town of Pella.

All of the others hail from north-central, northwest or western Iowa. Only Bertrand represents a largely urban district (Sioux City). None represents a suburban district.

Chapman’s district lies close to the Des Moines metro area, and at age 30, he’s younger than any of the Iowa House Republicans who co-sponsored this year’s marriage amendment. Chapman comes from a strongly religious background and spent two years overseas as a Mormon missionary, which presumably informs his position. Yet even he doesn’t seek attention for his stance on marriage. Speaking to Josh Hafner for a recent Des Moines Register profile, Chapman said his key issues were legalizing the sale of fireworks, eliminating the estate tax, and “restricting the National Security Agency.”

I was interested to see who has drifted away from the battle to end same-sex marriage. Four current Republican senators co-sponsored the marriage amendment in 2013 but not this year:

Mark Chelgren

Amy Sinclair

Roby Smith

Jack Whitver

Whitver represents a suburban district near Des Moines, Smith part of the Quad-Cities metro area, Chelgren a southeast Iowa district, and Sinclair a district in south-central Iowa. I was a little surprised to see her no longer among the co-sponsors, as she represents a largely rural area. Maybe downplaying social issues will be part of her strategy going into her 2016 re-election bid in Senate district 14.

Six Republican senators opted not to co-sponsor the marriage amendment in 2013 or 2015:

Mike Breitbach

Bill Dix

Tim Kapucian

Charles Schneider

Brad Zaun

Dan Zumbach

Schneider and Zaun represent parts of the Des Moines suburbs, while the other four come from northeast Iowa.

Finally, three Republican senators who weren’t serving in the upper chamber two years ago opted not to co-sponsor the marriage amendment:

Mark Costello

Julian Garrett

Tom Shipley

Costello and Shipley represent very conservative districts in western Iowa, so I was surprised they didn’t add their names to the marriage amendment. Garrett has always been considered more of a moderate Republican, and he represents counties close to the Des Moines area. Incidentally, as members of the Iowa House in 2013, Costello co-sponsored the marriage amendment, but Garrett did not.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S. – Not so long ago, the Iowa Senate’s leading warrior against marriage equality was GOP Senator Merlin Bartz. Shortly after the Iowa Supreme Court handed down its Varnum v Brien decision, Bartz used his position as a legislator to promote a petition drive urging county recorders not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Later, he was “vigilant” against any effort to rewrite Iowa administrative rules to reflect marriage equality. After narrowly losing his 2012 re-election bid to Democratic State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm, Bartz took a job running U.S. Representative Steve King’s district office in Mason City. He still lives in Worth County, though, so he may seek a rematch with Wilhelm in Iowa Senate district 26 next year.

Maintenance Notice - As of November 14, 2023 we are still seeing issues with replying to comments...Thanks for your patience, this will be restored.

  • Segebart is no surprise.

    When he ran in the primary to fill the open seat, he emphasized his strong opposition to marriage equality. I recall him saying, “That’s a hill I will die on.” It is likely that in a few months the U.S. Supreme Court will make this a non-issue.