No, Governor, minority rights should never be subject to majority vote

Governor Kim Reynolds usually excels at staying on message. Whether reciting a prepared script or taking questions at a press conference or interview, she can repeat the same talking points almost word for word, months apart.

Forced to go beyond rehearsed answers yesterday, Reynolds revealed what she really thinks about marriage equality.

The Des Moines Register’s William Petroski asked Reynolds for her position on two proposed Republican Party platform planks that promote “traditional” marriage and “encourage the repeal of any laws allowing marriage that is not between one natural man and one natural woman.” The second plank is identical to language in the current GOP platform, adopted in 2016.

Those goals are dead letters, given the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2009 ruling in Varnum and the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell. Still, it would be nice to hear the governor endorse marriage equality and denounce Republican efforts to deny basic rights to LGBTQ couples.

Reynolds would rather not talk about the issue. Her initial answer put a little distance between herself and her party’s platform–without opposing its sentiment–then pivoted to her preferred message. Starting around 22:35 in the press conference video:

Well, first of all, the platform is a grassroots document that Republicans all across the state come together and work on. And it’s not something that, you know, I mean–so it’s a guidelines of what the grassroots Republicans kind of look to, for the state. But it’s not something that, you know, every single candidate has to abide by, or–it is kind of an over-arching goal of what the party is working on.

So what I am going to be focused on, Bill, and what I’m going to be talking about, is really continuing to move this state forward. To look for opportunities for Iowans in every single corner of this state. To make sure that we’re helping young people see that there are multiple career pathways to a great job and a great opportunity in this state. We’re going to talk about reducing taxes and continuing to create an environment where are our job creators and businesses like Vermeer [site of the press conference] will feel confident in investing and continuing to grow in the state of Iowa.

And I think, that’s what really–when you talk to Iowans and you travel the state, what they’re looking for–they’re concerned about their children having the same opportunities that they had when they were growing up in Iowa. Kevin and I have nine grandchildren, soon to have ten. And I want to make sure that they–like parents all across the state–that they have the same opportunities that we did. No guarantees, but the same opportunity to succeed and be successful, to have a great career where they can take care of themselves and make a difference.

And that’s what I’m focused on.

Any thought about helping same-sex parents see the same opportunities for their families, Governor? Shouldn’t LGBTQ kids be able to stay in Iowa without a major political party working to make them second-class citizens?

Petroski followed up with a straightforward question: “What would be your position on same-sex marriage?” Reynolds got testy (around 24:10):

I think that’s been determined. I am going–I told you–Bill, I told you what I am going to focus on. And that’s what I’m focused on. And that’s been my message, from the Condition of the State [speech in January], and moving forward. Is to make sure that kids have every single opportunity to be successful, that parents can take care of their children. And that’s what we’re focused on. Next question.

Petroski tried again for a straight answer: “Is it fair to say you consider it to be a settled matter?” This time, an unrehearsed response came before the pivot.

I think if it goes to the voters–I–you know, people have traditional views on what they believe marriage consists of and they have every right to have that. But it was decided by the courts. And I have said from the very beginning my position has been that it probably should go to a vote of the people and they should weigh in and then we would stop this back and forth. But that I am focused on continuing to move Iowa forward, providing opportunities for Iowans, and make sure that we continue to grow as a state.

So, Reynolds isn’t committed to equal rights and opportunities. Ideally, the (overwhelmingly straight, white, Christian) voting public would “weigh in” on whether LGBTQ Iowans can enjoy the benefits of marriage. But she’s a pragmatist, not “focused on” taking rights away from same-sex couples.

The governor’s staff walked it back a little later. From Radio Iowa’s O.Kay Henderson:

On Tuesday afternoon, a spokeswoman for the governor said Reynolds believes the courts “weren’t necessarily the place” where the issue should have been decided, but Reynolds considers the issue “settled.”

A few hours earlier, Reynolds had discussed a statewide vote on a constitution amendment that would ban same-sex marriage. […]

The governor’s communications director indicated that was Reynolds’ view in the past, not the present.

Watch or listen again: Reynolds said nothing about her views evolving since she co-sponsored a state constitutional amendment to restrict marriage to heterosexuals in Iowa. And while she’s not actively trying to overturn the Varnum or Obergefell decisions, she expressed a preference for putting the rights of a historically disfavored minority on a statewide ballot: “I have said from the very beginning my position has been that it probably should go to a vote of the people and they should weigh in and then we would stop this back and forth.”

Even the clean-up statement from her staff suggests Reynolds thinks Iowa voters (not judges) should have decided whether to extend the right to marry to LGBTQ couples. Why? Heterosexual couples don’t need anyone’s permission to enter marriages others may consider immoral or unwise.

As a straight white Christian spending most of her life in communities with little diversity, Reynolds never had to spend ten seconds wondering whether the state would let her marry the man she loved. She has no idea what it’s like to be outnumbered by people who don’t share her values and would stand in the way of her family’s happiness if they could.

The governor talks a good game when reading her speechwriters’ words: “I won’t stop working until every Iowan, no matter where they live, has the same opportunity to succeed, have a satisfying career, raise a family and have a great quality of life.” But she just blew an opportunity to show she’s invested in fairness and opportunities for all her constituents.

  • This makes me wonder...

    …what the gubernatorial candidate debates might potentially be like if moderators could somehow pry genuine unrehearsed answers out of Reynolds instead of stale talking points. It’s hard to be optimistic about that, and I’ve given up watching political debates in recent years because they are more maddening than interesting. . But please, moderators, try. Assuming there will be debates, because I’ll bet Reynolds will want as few as possible.

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