An effort by Republicans in the Iowa state legislature to debate a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage failed last week. The amendment will likely not be debated at all this year since it could not advance through the House Judiciary Committee by March 7th, the deadline for getting on the current session’s calendar. The Republicans attempted a seldom-used maneuver to hold a floor vote to move the stalled proposal out of committee, but the Democratic majority in the Iowa House blocked the attempt by a 50-46 party line vote.
Before the vote, the leading Republican in the Iowa congress warned:
“We have to do it now, or this issue is done,” House Minority Leader Christopher Rants, a Sioux City Republican, said Monday. “We’re going to see gay marriages take place in Iowa. Iowa’s going to be sort of the Las Vegas of America, because we have no residency requirement and we’ll have people from all across the country coming to Iowa to get married.”
As Iowans we are used to being the butt of “country hick” jokes and have developed a pretty thick skin. But to be compared to Las Vegas? Mr. Rants was playing Republican hardball with that. But the Democrats in the house weren’t as insulted as Rants hoped they would be.
One reason the Democrats used to justify the vote was a case pending before the Iowa Supreme Court. The court will hear an appeal to a lower court ruling by district judge Robert Hanson in August 2007 that declared Iowa’s 1998 Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. An appeal to Hanson’s ruling was filed immediately by county attorney John Sarcone, and Hanson put a hold on his own ruling until the Iowa Supreme Court could review it.
About twenty gay couples rushed to the courthouse to obtain marriage licenses after Hanson’s initial ruling. Only one couple, Sean Fritz and Tim McQuillan, were able to get their application processed and approved before Hanson’s ruling was put on hold. Fritz and McQuillan were married that day.
Republicans plan on making gay marriage a central issue in Iowa for the November elections. Democrats took control of both the Iowa House and Senate in the 2006 elections. They have a 53-47 majority in the House and a 30-20 Majority in the Senate. Iowan’s attitudes toward gay marriage has been slowly improving. A poll from February showed an almost even split on support for the constitutional ban with 48% supporting the ban and 47% opposed. The same poll found that civil unions are supported by 58% of Iowans and opposed by 40%. The possibility still exists that Iowa could ban gay marriage in the future, and the upcoming review of Hanson’s ruling by the Supreme Court is uncertain. But changing attitudes and Democratic control of the legislature means time is the enemy of the Republicans’ efforts to ban gay marriage in Iowa.