The public hearing on House Joint Resolution 6, better known as the Iowa Marriage Amendment, filled the galleries of the House chamber to the brim last night. Despite the winter weather advisory and deteriorating road conditions, hundreds of people turned out to voice their opinions on the measure.
The gay marriage debate has been front and center in Iowa for almost a decade. Despite having majorities in both chambers in the mid-2000’s, Republicans failed to successfully pass the amendment in one general assembly, even though the Iowa House has passed the amendment twice.
Iowa Democrats have also failed to lead on the issue. Despite controlling both chambers of the Iowa legislature from 2007 to 2011, Democrats failed to legislatively legalize gay marriage. Instead, they let the courts decide the controversial issue. When the court decision struck down Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act and gay marriages were allowed, Democratic legislators failed to pass legislation that would codify gay marriage into the Iowa Code or pass a constitutional amendment that would guarantee those rights.
It is now becoming apparent that, regardless of the Court’s Varnum decision, marriage is going to remain a hot-button topic in Iowa until the controversial issue can somehow become settled. The political process has let the people down because our elected officials have failed to recognize the people’s desire to see that this issue is settled. It now seems that the only way to settle this issue for once and for all is to allow the people of Iowa to determine if gay marriages should be allowed in our state.
The measure is expected to pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives with ease. When successful, this will be the third time the lower chamber has passed the amendment. However, while the House has debated this issue in the light of the public in each of the past three general assemblies where Republicans held a majority, the State Senate, has only debated the issue once, and like the House, it was under Republican control at the time.
Last November, when Iowa Republicans won 60 seats in the House and Terry Branstad was elected governor, many believed that the voters of Iowa put Republicans back in-charge. There is no other way to describe the results of the 2010 elections in Iowa besides calling it a landslide for Republicans.
Not only did Republicans take control of the Iowa House and executive branch, but they also made impressive gains in the State Senate, where they picked up six seats. Their victories were not just limited to the legislature and the executive branches either. Voters in 90 of the state’s 99 counties voted to oust three Iowa Supreme Court Justices who were up for retention. The vote to oust the justices was based largely on the court’s ruling in the Varnum case.
Iowa voters sent a pretty clear message on November 2nd, but apparently it was all for naught. Somewhere along the way, myself, as well as a few hundred thousand Iowans, were led to believe that elections have consequences. We also thought that the real power in this state was vested is its people, and they temporarily loan that power to our elected representatives.
Remarkably, all that we thought that was accomplished in last year’s election really means nothing. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize where the real power lies. Apparently, all political power in legislative branch lies with one person who represents 60,000 people in Pottawattamie County – Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal.
In his last election, Gronstal garnered just 13,375 votes, a number that pails in comparison to the number of people who voted to elect Branstad or oust the three justices who were up for retention.
Gronstal is probably lucky that he didn’t have to stand for re-election last November. Despite seeing almost 20 percent of Democrat caucus vanish, Senate Democrats once again elected Gronstal as their leader. It’s hard to believe, but that vote of confidence for Gronstal is what gives him what seems to be the sole power over the entire legislative process in Iowa.
While many focus on Gronstal’s tight grip in the Senate, his power really stems from a group of weak-kneed cowards who are more than content to hide behind Gronstal. This is the same group that for the past three to four years hid behind the black robes of the justices of the Supreme Court while the issue of gay marriage was in the courts.
Senators Jack Kibbie, Joe Seng, Tom Reilly, Dennis Black, Tom Courtney and Tom Hancock all tell their constituents back home that they support traditional marriage, but then go to Des Moines and vote for Gronstal as their leader. These cowardly senators also hide behind procedural votes, saying that they have nothing to do with marriage, when they actually do.
Last Thursday at 7:00 a.m., Senator Kent Sorenson moved to suspend the rules in the Senate so that the chamber could consider Senate Joint Resolution 8 a/k/a the marriage amendment. The only way that SJR 8 is going to be debated on the floor of the Senate is by a suspension of the rules.
Sorenson was willing to take a bold stand, but it was only going to be successful if two of the four Democrats would break with their party and vote to suspend the rules. Once again, Kibbie, Seng, Reilly, Black, Courtney and Hancock cowered at the one moment when their constituents, who just want the ability to vote on the definition of marriage, needed them most.
Those senators are the ones who needed to be in the House chamber last night. They need to realize that that the people of Iowa care passionately about the issue, and the people expect them to either act, either by passing legislation or allowing the issue to come before the people in the form of a constitutional amendment.
If they fail to act, or continue to hide like cowards behind a Supreme Court decision or their Senate leader, the people of Iowa will be forced to take action in the next election..
Our elected officials should do the right thing now and present the people of Iowa the opportunity to settle this question for once and for all.
Photo by Dave Davidson
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