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January 18th, 2010

Traditional Marriage Advocates Risk the Future of Marriage on Vander Plaats

vanderplaatsmarriageLast week, the Iowa Family Policy Center’s Iowa Family PAC endorsed Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats. The endorsement itself didn’t surprise anyone. What surprised people was that the most prominent pro-family organization in the state chose to echo the exact same endorsement structure that State Representative Kent Sorenson used just a week earlier when endorsing Vander Plaats.

In endorsing Vander Plaats, both Sorenson and IFPC used the opportunity to blast former governor and current Republican gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad. Both vowed to not support Branstad in the general election if he wins the Republican primary. IFPC encouraged its supporters to attend a “Let Us Vote” rally at the capitol on the same day as Governor Culver’s condition of the state address. However, they failed to communicate to their activists that the rally was actually the backdrop for them to endorse Vander Plaats.

The recent actions of IFPC and other advocates of traditional marriage trouble me greatly. My concern is that the focus of these groups has now been redirected toward helping one candidate rather than concentrating on the ultimate goal of passing a marriage amendment.

Passing a constitutional amendment is no easy task. In 1999, Iowans were asked to vote on two proposed constitutional amendments. The first was a 99% spending limitation, and the second would have required a sixty percent majority to pass a tax increase. Both of these amendments failed when put to a vote of the public.

Unlike the 1999 constitutional amendments, the marriage amendment isn’t even being allowed a vote in legislative committee, let alone getting a vote before the full House and Senate. Even if the amendment is voted on and passes in both chambers, legislators will have to pass it again in the next legislative session, meaning the earliest the people of Iowa will get the opportunity to vote on marriage is 2012.

Knowing how difficult it is pass a constitutional amendment, the events of the past 10 days could actually do more to guarantee gay marriage rights in Iowa rather than repeal them. While the motto of IFPC’s marriage initiative may be “Let Us Vote,” I’m now left wondering what they really want “us” to vote for.

Is IFPC focused on passing a constitutional amendment defining marriage? If that is the case, they are asking people to be involved in a process which is a multi-year undertaking and requires the election of at least seven state representative and eight state senators. Or, are they focused on turning out the vote for Bob Vander Plaats in the June primary?

If the focus is on nominating Bob Vander Plaats, then I’m of the opinion that they have done more harm than good in regards to the issue of marriage. Vander Plaats’ executive order is an unnecessary step in passing a constitutional amendment. His executive order complicates an already complicated issue. Even if Vander Plaats’ executive order is successful, the legislature would still have to pass a marriage amendment to ensure a future governor with more liberal ideals won’t undermine traditional marriage down the road. On the other hand, if Vander Plaats’ executive order isn’t successful, then passing a constitutional amendment would most likely become even more difficult, especially if either Mike Gronstal or Pat Murphy still occupy their leadership positions.

The fundamental problem I have with IFPC’s recent actions and Vander Plaats’ executive order is that the issue of traditional marriage is now directly coupled with the success or failure of one candidate, – Bob Vander Plaats. By IFPC going all-in on Vander Plaats, traditional marriage advocates may be defeated long before this November. If Vander Plaats is defeated in the June primary, you can count on Governor Culver, Mike Gronstal, Pat Murphy, One Iowa, and the Iowa Democratic Party to declare the issue of marriage to be settled.

Gay marriage advocates will all say that Vander Plaats’ campaign is a referendum on marriage, and if it couldn’t pass in a Republican primary, there is no way that it would pass in a general election. The same holds true for the general election if Vander Plaats win the Republican primary but loses in the general election. The best case scenario for IFPC is if Vander Plaats is elected governor and sees his executive order upheld, but as discussed above, the legislature will still have to approve the amendment twice.

What leaves me the most disappointed about IFPC’s recent actions is how politically driven their anti-endorsement of Branstad appears to have been. It also seems that IFPC and some traditional marriage advocates have sought to vilify certain Republicans while giving a pass to some Democrats. In addition to vilifying former Governor Terry Branstad, Republican Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley and Congressman Steve King have also been the target of criticism on the marriage issue. When some Iowans who wanted to bring in the group that successfully passed Proposition Eight in California, many pro-marriage advocates wanted nothing to do with them.

Yet, last Friday, both Steve Deace and Rep. Kent Sorenson urged people to call and encourage Democrat State Representative Mike Reasoner to push the marriage amendment bill he filed in the Iowa House. I have no problem with them wanting people to encourage Rep. Reasoner to do the right thing, but one has to wonder why they are willing to encourage a Democrat to do the right thing on this issue but are not willing to do the same for someone like former Governor Branstad.

IFPC’s anti-endorsement of Branstad also had a glaring omission. Nowhere in their press release do they acknowledge that it was Branstad who signed into law the Iowa Defense of Marriage Act. By not accurately portraying his record, we are left to wonder if the organization was politically motivated to omit such information.

The reason why I question IFPC’s political motives isn’t because they endorsed Vander Plaats, it’s because Chuck Hurley, the President of IFPC, noted in his remarks last Tuesday that Bob Vander Plaats had helped raise over $160,000 for IFPC’s Iowa Family PAC. Raising money for a cause that you care deeply about is admirable, but that information makes one question if the endorsement of Vander Plaats was ever in doubt. More importantly, it raises questions about Vander Plaats’ influence over IFPC as an organization. Perhaps these contributions had no bearing on the decision of IFPC to endorse, but at the very least, it was poor judgment to raise this issue during the actual endorsement due to the questions of financial influence it raises.

The issue of marriage is important to me. As a conservative, I realize that limited government can never truly exist unless our society values and upholds the traditional family structure. In the brief history of this site, I have consistently advocated for traditional marriage. I’ve also published numerous articles written by IFPC staff, and last summer I purchased a LUV Iowa yard sign for seven dollars and promptly planted it in my yard.

IFPC’s rally for marriage and press conference would have been much more powerful had the group’s leaders been joined on the stage by three or four gubernatorial candidates, 44 or more members of the Iowa House, and at least 18 state senators. Sadly, the event stage was limited to only those who support Bob Vander Plaats’ campaign for governor.

If the ultimate goal is to let the people of Iowa vote on a constitutional amendment that defines traditional marriage, then organizations like IFPC and supporters of traditional marriage should be trying to elect enough legislators so that the marriage amendment can be passed. While a Governor can be helpful in passing a constitutional amendment on marriage, they have no role in the process of getting the amendment passed.

IFPC has now tied the future of the marriage issue the political success of Bob Vander Plaats. If he fails as a candidate, the issue of traditional marriage will also suffer a serious defeat. One would have thought that after losing a decade long struggle to protect traditional marriage in Iowa, marriage supporters and groups like IFPC would have focused their efforts on the issue of marriage itself and not place an all-in bet on one political candidate.

Photo by Dave Davidson

About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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