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October 23rd, 2009

What’s more important: Senate Tradition or the Institution of Marriage?

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Written by: The Iowa Republican
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TraditionGroups like IFPC Action and LUV Iowa have been partnering with Iowans all across the state for almost seven months now to network people and to work a strategy for passage of the Iowa Marriage Amendment. At each stop along the way, in every town meeting, and at every marriage event, people are outraged that the Iowa Supreme Court would take upon themselves the role of Legislative, Judicial and Executive authority to create homosexual “marriage” out of thin air. People always want to know why one branch of government has been allowed to grow so powerful in relation to the other two. They also want to know what, if anything, can withstand the tyrannical arm of an out of control judicial branch.

I think I have finally found the answer: Senate Tradition.

Last Thursday, I ran into Senator Dennis Black at a central Iowa coffee shop. Senator Black is my State Senator, but we weren’t in his district or at the Capitol, so neither of us had any reason to expect that we might cross paths, and we didn’t immediately recognize each other. While the meeting was a chance encounter, it had all the markings of a Divine appointment. Thanks to the Senator’s transparency in the conversation that ensued, I received a unique insight into a discussion that has been playing itself out all across the state since last April.

Upon learning that I work at IFPC Action, Senator Black immediately began to assure me that he is a supporter of marriage between one man and one woman. I thanked him for his support for marriage, and then asked him to explain what that means to him.

He replied with what had all the markings of a well rehearsed speech that had been delivered to constituents on countless occasions. He said, “I’m probably stronger in my support of marriage than you! I believe that marriage ought to be one man and one woman, one time.”

Again, I was extremely encouraged to hear this from a member of the Iowa Senate, and especially encouraged to hear it from a member of the Democrat caucus. I assured him that we were on the same page in our understanding of what marriage is, and so I asked him what he intended to do about it.

The Senator told me that he had spoken to Senator Gronstal, and encouraged him to allow the Iowa Marriage Amendment to come to the floor for a vote, but that he was fairly certain the leadership would never allow that to happen. As before, it seemed that his answers to my questions were well rehearsed. He appeared to anticipate each one, and had his talking points all ready to go. His message: “I support marriage as much as you, but there is just nothing I can do about it.”

I thanked him for talking to Senator Gronstal, and for asking him to bring the Iowa Marriage Amendment to the floor for a vote. I then asked him what he intended to do about Gronstal’s unacceptable answer. That seemed to be a question he was unprepared to answer.

“I’m not sure what you mean. Unless Senator Gronstal decides to change his mind, the amendment is not going to come to the floor for a vote,” he said.

At that point, I asked him if he would join me in standing up to those members of the Iowa Senate who refuse to allow the people of Iowa to vote, and if he would truly take a stand for marriage. I explained that Senate rules permit him to bring the amendment to the floor over the objection of Senator Gronstal.

He looked surprised and said, “Evidently you have read the rules more carefully than I have.”

I replied by explaining that the Senate Rules allow for a suspension of the rules, and that just as legislators did in the Iowa House last spring, he could force a vote through a suspension of the rules to bring the Iowa Marriage Amendment to the floor for a vote.

The Senator visibly bristled at the very suggestion that he ought to suspend the rules to force a vote. He said, “That has never been done in the entire history of the Iowa Senate! Do you have any idea what type of chaos would ensue on the floor of the Senate if I were to do that?”

My reply was to remind him that the Iowa Supreme Court has never so blatantly violated the Iowa Constitution before either, and that their unprecedented actions demand an unprecedented response from the other branches of government. I also asked, “Do you have any idea what type of overwhelming support you would receive from the people of Iowa if you were to stand up to your leadership and defend marriage like that?”

At that point, the Senator said, “A vote on a procedural maneuver is not perceived by most people as a real vote on the marriage amendment.” He motioned to the other people sitting in the coffee shop as he explained how the general ignorance of the voting public permits politicians to say one thing to their constituents and then behave differently when in Des Moines.

He then challenged me by saying, “You can’t with any integrity look me in the eye and say that a no vote on a motion to suspend the rules is actually a no vote on the marriage amendment.”

After that comment, I made a point of looking him in the eye as I said, “Senator, I will look you in the eye right now,” which seemed to come as a surprise to him.

I continued with, “I will tell you that there are options available to you as a Senator that would help to defend marriage in this state, and you are evidently unwilling to exercise them. You sir are not really a supporter of marriage.”

His shocked expression made it obvious that the conversation was rapidly coming to a close, so I offered to e-mail him with a step by step process for using Senate Rules to defend marriage over the objections of his party leadership. He assured me that my e-mail would not be necessary.

This conversation was another example of how comfortable politicians have become in telling voters what they want to hear without any expectation that we will require them to back up their words with actions. Too many politicians have become convinced that they are smarter than us common folk. Our ignorance often provides political cover for politicians who are too frequently hesitant to take a bold stand. That has got to change.

The conversation also revealed once again that if there is any singularly unshakable force in Iowa government it is senate tradition. It is increasingly evident that in the minds of many senators, the Iowa Constitution may as well be written on an Etch-A-Sketch, and the definition of an institution that predates civil government – marriage — is as pliable as Silly Putty, but Iowa Senate Tradition was evidently etched in granite on Mt. Sinai and can not be changed or challenged.

I wish that I could say this type of conversation was a reflection of the partisan nature of the current debate over marriage in Iowa. Unfortunately, this is the same discussion that many Iowans had with Republican senate leadership in April and May. It is the same discussion that constituents continue to have with Senators from both parties who claim to support marriage.

The idea that there were no options available to Iowa Senators for forcing a vote in the Senate, like the one that House Republicans forced on their side of the rotunda, is completely without a foundation in fact. They just believe that it is easier to confuse their constituents with legislative jargon, and to point fingers at Mike Gronstal, than it is to take a stand for one of the foundational pillars of any healthy society. Marriage is not a partisan issue. Senators on both sides of the aisle say that they support marriage. There IS something they can do about it!

As was clearly stated to several members of the Iowa Senate last spring, Iowa Senate rules allow for any senator to do the following:

1) Move to suspend the rules (rule 25) for the purpose of introducing the Iowa Marriage Amendment and bringing it to the floor for immediate consideration.

2) Get a recorded vote under rule 22. This way Iowans can know who supports real marriage and the Iowa Constitution, and who supports the homosexual agenda and courts that try to make law.

3) If the President rules you out of order at step 1 above, appeal the ruling to the Senate as a whole under rule 52.

4) Then get the record vote on the appeal under rule 22. This way Iowans can know who supports real marriage and the Iowa Constitution, and who supports the homosexual agenda and courts that try to make law.

(Reading the Iowa Senate Rules is tedious, but verification of the 4 step process for forcing a vote on the Iowa Marriage Amendment is available on the state legislative web site: http://coolice.legis.state.ia.us/Cool-ICE/default.asp?Category=BillInfo&Service=Billbook&ga=83&menu=text&hbill=SR8 )

This is not a difficult process. Any senator who has been entrusted with writing laws can certainly understand how to use the above mentioned rules. The consistent hang-up is not their inability to understand the rules but rather their dedication to “senate tradition” above all else.

Even with this insight into the unwillingness of “pro-marriage” senators to take action to defend the definition of marriage, it’s hard to comprehend why they are willing to take the political risk of having their constituents discover that they have options available but refuse to use them. Maybe instead of trying to pass the Iowa Marriage Amendment, we ought to look for a way to tie the definition of marriage to long standing senate tradition. Then, every Senator in the chamber would gladly risk their political career to preserve it.

Written by Bryan M. English
Director of Public Relations and Outreach
Iowa Family Policy Center


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The Iowa Republican





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