How the Iowa House passed the civil rights bill in 2007

Former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy shares his memories of an important legislative victory twelve years ago. -promoted by Laura Belin

Last month Iowans celebrated ten years of marriage equality. Two years prior, the legislature added protections for LGBTQ people to Iowa’s civil rights law. One of my children asked me to share that experience in writing. What you are about to read is an excerpt.

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The 2007 votes that made 2019 a historic year for transgender Iowans

Only three months in, 2019 is already the most significant year for transgender equality in Iowa since 2007, when state lawmakers and Governor Chet Culver added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes in the Iowa Civil Rights Act. That 1965 law hadn’t been significantly amended in decades.

The crucial Iowa House and Senate votes on the civil rights law happened during the first year since the 1960s that Democrats controlled both legislative chambers and the governor’s office. Support for LGBTQ equality is often taken for granted now in Democratic circles, but the issue was seen as more politically volatile twelve years ago. The bill amending the civil rights act came late in the 2007 legislative session and could not have passed without some Republican votes.

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10 years of marriage equality in Iowa

Ten years ago today, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously held in Varnum v Brien that the state’s Defense of Marriage Act “violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution.”

Justice Mark Cady wrote the opinion, which cost three of his colleagues (Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, Justice David Baker, and Justice Michael Streit) their jobs in the 2010 judicial retention elections. Assigned the task of writing by random drawing, Cady “strongly believed the court should speak in one voice” on such a controversial matter, Tom Witosky and Marc Hansen wrote in their 2015 book Equal Before the Law: How Iowa Led Americans to Marriage Equality. In fact, Cady “was convinced there was no room for even a concurring opinion–an opinion in agreement with the court’s conclusion but not its reasoning.” (pp. 134-5)

Thousands of Iowans have enjoyed a better quality of life since our state became the third to give LGBTQ couples the right to marry. Lambda Legal, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of six Iowa couples, has posted a timeline of key events in the case. State Senator Zach Wahls wrote today about the Supreme Court decision’s impact on his family.

I wanted to mark this day by sharing highlights from Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of that historic event. My deepest condolences go out to the friends and relatives of former Supreme Court Justice Daryl Hecht. The Iowa Judicial Branch announced today that Hecht has died. He stepped down from the bench in December 2018 while battling melanoma. Of the seven justices who joined the Varnum opinion, only Cady, Brent Appel, and David Wiggins still serve on the high court.

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Don't make more than 52,000 Iowans wait until 2023 to vote

Governor Kim Reynolds asked Iowa lawmakers today to start the process of amending the state constitution to remove the lifetime ban on voting by those who have committed “infamous crimes,” which under current law are defined as all felony offenses.

A constitutional amendment would be the best long-term fix for an unfair system that disproportionately affects racial minorities and those lacking the funds to navigate the restoration process. So the Iowa House and Senate should certainly heed the governor’s call. But it’s difficult to get a constitutional amendment through both chambers of the legislature, and the soonest an amendment could be enacted would be November 2022.

Reynolds and state lawmakers can and should take immediate steps to allow tens of thousands of Iowans to participate in this year’s local elections, the 2020 caucuses, and the primary and general elections of 2020 and 2022.

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Paul Pate's error sends pro-gun amendment "back to square one"

“[A]ll of our work has been wiped away,” Iowa Firearms Coalition President Kurt Liske wrote in an e-mail to supporters on the evening of January 13. “Because of the Secretary of State’s complete failure, we must now go back to square one of the constitutional amendment process.”

Pro-gun advocates thought they were halfway toward amending Iowa’s constitution to include expansive language on gun rights, which could invalidate many existing regulations.

But Republican lawmakers will have to start over this year, because Secretary of State Paul Pate dropped the ball.

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Sara Craig Gongol joins small group of top Iowa women staffers

The first woman elected to our state’s highest office has picked the third woman to serve as an Iowa governor’s chief of staff.

Sara Craig Gongol will replace Governor Kim Reynolds’ current chief of staff Ryan Koopmans, effective December 15. Craig Gongol was a leading campaign strategist for Reynolds this year and has been “a key member of my team” since 2014, the governor said in a December 11 press release.

The appointment inspired me to look into which women have held the top staff position for governors or members of Congress from Iowa. Like Craig Gongol, who ran Mitt Romney’s 2012 Iowa caucus campaign, several women who managed high-level Iowa campaigns went on to serve as chiefs of staff.

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