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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No wonder Bill Dix wanted to bury the GOP sexual harassment investigation

Less than two weeks ago, Iowa Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix led journalists to believe there was no written report from the internal investigation of sexual harassment in the Senate GOP caucus.

Senate leaders arranged to have a redacted version of that report (addressed to Dix’s attention and dated August 15) published the day after Thanksgiving, when few Iowans would be paying attention to political news.

No wonder the original plan was to keep these findings secret: they reveal ongoing problems in the workplace as well as inherent flaws of an in-house investigation.

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Iowa Senate district 26 preview: Mary Jo Wilhelm vs. Waylon Brown

After several months of recruiting efforts, Republicans finally have a candidate willing to run against two-term State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm in Iowa Senate district 26. This race is among a half-dozen or so contests that will determine control of the upper chamber after the 2016 elections. Since Iowans elected Governor Terry Branstad and a GOP-controlled state House in 2010, the 26 to 24 Democratic majority in the state Senate has spared Iowa from various disastrous policies adopted in states like Kansas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Of the senators who make up that one-seat majority caucus, Wilhelm was re-elected by the narrowest margin: 126 votes out of nearly 31,000 cast in 2012.

I enclose below a map of Senate district 26, a review of its voter registration numbers and recent voting history, and background on Wilhelm and challenger Waylon Brown. Cautionary note: although Brown is the establishment’s pick here, he is not guaranteed to win the nomination. “Tea party” candidates won some upset victories in the 2012 Iowa Senate Republican primaries, notably Jane Jech against former State Senator Larry McKibben in Senate district 36 and Dennis Guth against former State Senator James Black in Senate district 4.

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Throwback Thursday: When Steve King said counties denying marriage licenses was "no solution"

I suppose it was inevitable that Representative Steve King would insert himself into the national debate over a Kentucky county clerk using her religious beliefs as an excuse not to do her job. King’s immediate reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality was to urge states to “just abolish civil marriage, let’s go back to holy matrimony the way it began.” A couple of weeks later, he introduced a Congressional resolution saying states “may refuse to be bound by the holding in Obergefell v. Hodges” and “are not required to license same-sex marriage or recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.”

This past weekend, King lit up Twitter by saying of the Rowan County clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses,

In 1963, we should not have honored SCOTUS decision to creat a wall of separation between prayer & school. Kim Davis for Rosa Parks Award.

On Tuesday, King doubled down in an interview with KSCJ radio in Sioux City: “Cheers for [Mike] Huckabee and [Ted] Cruz, whoever else has stepped up to defend Kim Davis. I think she deserves the Rosa Parks Award.”

Would you believe there was a time when King said calling for county officials to refuse to abide by a Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality was “no solution” in the battle to “protect marriage”?

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GOP State Representative Josh Byrnes will not run for Iowa Senate district 26

Republican State Representative Josh Byrnes will not run against Democratic State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm in Iowa Senate district 26 next year. The Iowa House Transportation Committee chair has thrown his hat in the ring to replace Kraig Paulsen as House speaker. Regardless of how the speaker contest goes, Byrnes confirmed to Bleeding Heartland, “I am not running for Senate.”

The news will lift Democratic spirits, as Byrnes would have been the obvious GOP recruit for this competitive Senate district. Democrats hold a 26 to 24 majority in the upper chamber, and Republicans will almost certainly target Wilhelm next year.

First elected to the upper chamber in 2008, the former Howard County supervisor was the Iowa Senate incumbent re-elected by the narrowest margin in 2012. Redistricting pitted Wilhelm against GOP State Senator Merlin “Build my fence” Bartz, whom she defeated by just 126 votes in a district where Barack Obama carried 55.6 percent of the vote.

Meanwhile, Byrnes was re-elected to the Iowa House by more than 4,000 votes in 2012, even as Obama carried 55.2 percent of the vote in House district 51. Only two other Republican-held House seats went to Obama by a larger margin: House district 91 (Muscatine area) and House district 58 (Maquoketa). Byrnes easily won re-election in 2014 as well. He disagrees with his more conservative House colleagues on some high-profile issues, giving him potentially strong crossover appeal.

I haven’t heard of any other Republicans taking a close look at Senate district 26. I encourage Bleeding Heartland readers who know differently to contact me. Since December 2012, Bartz has run Representative Steve King’s district office in Mason City. I will be surprised if he runs for the Iowa Senate again.

Senate district 26 includes all of Worth, Mitchell, Floyd, Howard and Chickasaw counties, part of Cerro Gordo County (but not Mason City or Clear Lake) and part of Winneshiek County (but not Decorah). A detailed map is after the jump. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, Senate district 26 contains 11,202 active registered Democrats, 11,101 Republicans, and 16,899 no-party voters.

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