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Hundreds of Iowans Rally at Capitol on Same-Sex Marriage PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 10 April 2009 14:08

Kraig PaulsenHundreds of opponents and supporters of the Iowa Supreme Court's Varnum v. Brien decision legalizing same-sex marriage descended Thursday on the Iowa Capitol and watched as House Speaker Pat Murphy declined twice to call up a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman.

"Let us vote! Let us vote! Let us vote!" supporters of the Iowa Marriage Amendment shouted after the first attempt to bring the issue to the House floor was ruled out of order.

Advocates on both sides of the issue watched at about 9:30 a.m. as House Minority Leader Kraig Paulsen made an attempt to bring House Joint Resolution 6 to the House floor.

Hundreds of supporters of the amendment filled the House galleries wearing red shirts, while opponents wore white One Iowa shirts with a big blue dot on the front. After a more-than-half-hour conference in the House well, Murphy said the motion was out of order.

"That bill was filed late. It didn't meet any of the rules to get out of committee," Murphy later told reporters. "We are not going to take that bill up this year because Republicans didn't get their act together and file the bill in a timely fashion."

Paulsen indicated the fight was not over. He told reporters he planned to make another attempt to debate the marriage amendment, which if passed by two consecutive General Assemblies would go to a vote of the people. "We've got a distinct difference here between two branches of government, and the right people to resolve that are the citizens of Iowa," he said.

At 3 p.m., state Representative Christopher Rants (R-Sioux City) tried to bring up the Iowa Marriage Amendment as an amendment to the human-services budget bill on the House floor. Rants said lawmakers not only have the right but the obligation to revisit court decisions that strike down laws as unconstitutional.

"If it is the will of the people in this state that marriage be an institution between a man and a woman, then it is this body that should reflect the will of the people to do that - and we have, not once in this chamber, but twice," Rants said. "Today is the day for this body to speak again and to express the will of the people. It is not only right to do so under the constitution; I would argue that it is our obligation to do so."

This time, all Republicans in the House chamber and dozens of those supporting the Iowa Marriage Amendment in the House galleries stood as a show of support while legislative leaders gathered in the well to discuss whether the amendment would be taken up.

At 3:48 pm., the House fell silent as Murphy allowed a vote to suspend the rules and change the human-services budget bill into a House joint resolution on marriage as proposed by Rants. The motion failed on a 44-54 vote. Democratic state Representatives Geri Huser of Altoona and Dolores Mertz of Ottosen voted with Republicans in favor of the rules suspension.

"I'm very encouraged. Extremely encouraged," said Iowa Family Policy Center President Chuck Hurley, a key backer of the marriage amendment. "I would anticipate that as long as this legislature continues to deliberate, that people who want deliberation on a marriage amendment will continue to be here. I can't imagine them going away. I think we're on a roll. I think that people are energized. They understand what's at stake."

Justin Uebelhor, a spokesperson for One Iowa, the state's largest gay-rights organization, said thousands of people have joined in celebration of the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriages. He said Iowa faces more important challenges than passing a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages.

"We want our legislators to focus on those challenges and work hard to address the economic issues that we're facing, work hard on issues of health care and education to really improve the state," Uebelhor said. "Pushing this divisive agenda is something that's really not helpful."

Culver Reluctant to Amend the Constitution on Marriage

Four days after the landmark Iowa Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriages, Governor Chet Culver, a Democrat, said he "must respect the authority of the Iowa Supreme Court" and is "reluctant to support amending the Iowa Constitution to add a provision that our Supreme Court has said is unlawful and discriminatory."

Culver emphasized that he is opposed to same-sex marriages but said the question before the Iowa Supreme Court was one of civil marriage only - a state-recognized legal status constituting a civil contract. The ruling will take effect April 27, three days later than expected because courthouses across the state will be closed April 24 due to budget cuts.

"I personally believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. This is a tenet of my personal faith," Culver said. "Yet the Supreme Court of Iowa, in a unanimous decision, has clearly stated that the constitution of our state, which guarantees equal protection of the law to all Iowans, requires the state of Iowa to recognize the civil marriage contract of two people of the same gender.

"As governor, I must respect the authority of the Iowa Supreme Court, and have a duty to uphold the constitution of the State of Iowa. I also fully respect the right of all Iowans to live under the full protection of Iowa's constitution," Culver said.

Republicans blasted Culver's statement, calling it a flip-flop and a failure to keep his promise to protect traditional marriage.

"Chet Culver's inaction and self-serving political double talk on one of the most fundamental issues in our state - the definition of marriage and the defense of our culture - is truly one of the most astounding political reversals I've ever seen in my life," said Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats. "It's time for Chet Culver to get out of the way and let real leaders take charge so Iowans finally have a voice in this matter."

Former state Representative Danny Carroll (R-Grinnell), board chair of the Iowa Family Policy Center, said Culver has "cozied up with the legal elite, the homosexual lobby" and "should resign or be replaced."

Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley (R-Chariton) said Culver failed to keep the promise he made last year to "do whatever it takes to protect marriage as between one man and one woman."

"I believe Iowans should have the final vote on this very important and emotional issue," McKinley said. "Governor Culver has chosen to stand with seven elite justices and deny the 3 million people of Iowa the right to vote on this significant issue. This marriage flip-flop is just the latest example of Governor Culver not providing the leadership that every Iowan deserves."

During a public bill-signing at the Capitol, Culver defended his position on marriage and maintained that he did not flip-flop.

"The court very eloquently talked about the importance of protecting religious marriage and that was very important to me," he said. "I think that's critically important to most Iowans. That right was reaffirmed in this court decision. I believe marriage should be between a man and a woman. That will remain the case in a recognized religious marriage."