Shock, amazement, anger, disgust. All were feelings experienced by Iowa conservatives last Friday after the state Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision which allows same sex marriages in the Hawkeye state. The Court struck down the existing law which states, “[O]nly marriage between a male and a female is valid,” proclaiming in a sixty-nine page decision that the statute was unconstitutional. Iowa does not place residency requirements on marriage applicants, and gay rights advocates are indicating it may become a heartland Mecca attracting same sex marriages as a result of the Court’s decision, which is scheduled to take effect on April 27.
The Court ignored both Iowa public opinion and its constitutional duty to interpret the statute rather than enacting public policy. Curtis Carroll, an Iowan who attended the announcement of the decision at the state Judicial Building, summed up the majority of Iowans’ feelings when he stated, “I’m extremely disappointed. It’s a very poor decision and it goes far beyond the court’s responsibility.”
While the Supreme Court decision is not subject to further judicial review, a number of strategies are being considered to challenge the Court’s ruling.
State Representatives Rod Roberts and Duane Alons have requested that the legislature suspend its rules and consider legislation which would begin the constitutional amendment process to prohibit same sex marriages. Iowa law allows constitutional amendments to be submitted for approval by the state’s voters after the amendment has been approved by two separate general assemblies. If the legislature acted immediately, a proposed amendment could be presented to Iowa voters for ratification no earlier than 2012. However, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) has indicated he would resist any attempts to amend the constitution, and House Speaker Pat Murphy (D-Dubuque) has stated he would rule the request out of order.
A more promising strategy for a quicker reversal relies on Iowa voters asking for a constitutional convention. Every ten years Iowans are presented with the opportunity to request a constitutional convention. While a convention has not been held since 1857, the question is already scheduled to be on the November 2010 ballot. If a simple majority of Iowa voters decide to hold a convention, convention delegates would be able to debate and approve a marriage amendment that could be submitted to the voters for final approval at a special election as early as 2011. Iowa law requires that each amendment approved by the convention must then be approved by a separate vote. The state Constitution prohibits an up or down vote on the entire Constitution or on a combination of amendments — not just the marriage amendment, but any other issue could be considered by the convention and voters. This could attract numerous special interest groups and complicate an increasingly interesting 2010 Iowa election.
Regardless of a possible Constitutional convention, the court’s decision is already expected to have a major impact on the state’s 2010 election cycle. Both Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley and Democrat Gov. Chet Culver are expected to lead their respective party tickets with strong reelection bids, and there will be preliminary efforts to organize presidential campaigns for the 2012 caucuses. Grassley currently has not attracted a substantial opponent. However, Culver, who had previously declared that he would do whatever it takes to protect marriage between one man and one woman, reversed his position after the court announced its decision. Culver stated he “…would be reluctant to support amending the Iowa Constitution to add a provision that our Supreme Court has said is unlawful and discriminatory.” He further noted the Court decision reaffirmed the right of churches to continue to set standards and conduct religious ceremonies. He emphasized the difference between a religious and a civil marriage ceremony as a basis for changing his position.
Potential GOP rivals include 2006 Lieutenant Governor nominee Bob Vander Plaats and State Rep. Rod Roberts. Both have strongly attacked the Court’s decision. A third potential challenger, U.S. Rep. Steve King, stated he is more likely to consider seeking the governor’s office as a result of the decision. A Des Moines Register poll has indicated approximately 60 percent of Iowans believe marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman.