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.Continue Reading...