Governor Tom Vilsack backs a state law that would create “civil unions” for gay and lesbian couples.
“I do think that we as a state ought to honor commitment and we ought to reflect that in policies that we have,” the governor says.
Vilsack says it’s not fair that the high-school classmate Britney Spears married for 24 hours in Las Vegas had more rights than homosexual couples who’ve been in a committed relationship for 25 years.
“I think we ought to honor commitment and I think we ought to value it in society because there’s too little of it but I don’t think we necessarily have to redefine marriage to do it,” Vilsack says.
But Vilsack doubts a bill creating civil unions in Iowa would pass the Iowa Legislature, and he lashed out at the reporters who had asked him the questions about gay marriage.
“Let me say this about this conversation. This press conference was about the future of this state and it was about education. It was about something that we can reach agreement on,” Vilsack said during a news conference in his office. “It’s not something that we have political posturing on.”
Vilsack signed the current state law which declares that the only legal marriages in Iowa are those between a man and a woman.
“I think there is a religious connotation to marriage that needs to be respected and understood,” Vilsack says.
The governor says the state ought to stay out of the church’s business. But leaders of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa who describe themselves as “progressive voices” reject the governor’s argument. Connie Ryan Terrell, the group’s executive director, says there are over a thousand legal privileges and responsibilities that married couples get, but same-sex couples do not.
“We affirm that marriage matters to all families,” Ryan Terrill says. “We stand together in support of civil rights for all people and ask that the civil right to marry be extended to all families, regardless of sexual orientation.”
Reverend Mark Stringer, president of the Interfaith Alliance for Iowa and pastor at the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines, says same-sex couples want to marry — and “commit monogamy.”
“Why would we treat same-sex couples who want to commit monogamy as threats to society?” Stringer asks. “And how can we call ourselves a welcoming state or country, open and fair and seeking justice for all, if we continue to legislate against the rightful interests of our fellow citizens?”
Stringer scoffs at Vilsack’s support of civil unions and the law which declares legal marriages in Iowa are only those between a man and a woman.
“I’d like to see our politicians be moral leaders for a change,” Stringer told a statehouse rally.
Ryan Terrill says a civil union is an unacceptable alternative.
“It’s placing people who are part of same-sex couples as if they are second-class citizens,” Ryan Terrill says. “It is an issue of civil rights.”
On the other side of the political divide, the Iowa Family Policy Council sponsored a “Marriage Matters” rally at the statehouse which saw dozens of central Iowa pastors agree to encourage at least four months of courtship — and meetings with their pastor — before a couple is married in their church.
Iowa Family Policy Center president Chuck Hurley says they did the same thing in Cedar Rapids a couple of years ago. Over a hundred pastors participated, and Hurley says the divorce rate went down in Cedar Rapids.
Hurley refused to comment on the gay marriage issue today, but in the past Hurley has said male/female marriage is the bedrock on which our society is founded and gay marriage undermines that foundation.