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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Five ways ending straight-ticket voting could affect Iowa's 2018 election

For the first time in living memory, Iowans will not have the option of filling in one oval to vote a straight ticket for a political party in this year’s general election. Republicans eliminated straight-ticket voting here in 2017, as GOP legislators have done in several other states in recent years. The more publicized provisions of Iowa’s new law, on voter ID and signature verification, will benefit Republicans by creating obstacles for eligible voters in groups that tend to favor Democrats (people with lower incomes, college students, racial minorities, and senior citizens).

By contrast, the impact of eliminating straight-ticket voting is less clear. More Iowans filled in the Republican oval than the Democratic one in the 2014 election, the only midterm for which such statistics are available.

One thing is for sure:

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The qualities we pray for

Gary Kroeger’s thoughts on the coming campaign in a targeted Congressional district where Democrats Abby Finkenauer and Courtney Rowe are already running. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Two years ago I was in the Democratic primary to unseat Representative Rod Blum in Iowa’s first Congressional district. Along with businessman Ravi Patel and Cedar Rapids city council member Monica Vernon, I ran on progressive values and we strengthened each other’s resolve by engaging every single day with constituents and with each other.

By late summer, Mr. Patel left the primary race and former State Representative Pat Murphy joined. By the following spring (the race was so long I saw seasons change 7 times), I bowed out to support Monica Vernon because I felt that she had the best chance of winning. I went on to run for the Iowa House and Vernon gained the nomination to run against Blum, but incumbents are hard to beat and political intangibles were not in our favor and we both lost.

I’m not pointing this out to re-live the narrative of defeat, but to re-vive the spirit on which we all ran. It was the conviction that we, as Iowans, and as Americans, can do better. We each ran in our respective races because we believed that a dramatic course correction was necessary.

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