Without debate, the Iowa House late Wednesday voted 59-37 to extend civil rights protections to homosexuals.  The Iowa Senate two hours later approved House changes in the bill, sending it to the governor’s desk by a 34-16 vote.

The bill forbids discrimination based on someone’s "sexual orientation" or "gender identity" when it comes to work, education or housing.

In a dramatic move, supporters employed a rarely-used procedure so that the doors of the House were locked, attendance was taken and then the votes were cast.

House Speaker Pat Murphy’s voice shook as he announced the result. Afterwards, Murphy — a Democrat from Dubuque — was still emotional. "It was just one of those things that sort of hit me…and I’m usually not that emotional in front of people — except my wife," Murphy said.

Similar legislation failed in the Iowa House in 1992 and in 1989, and House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines told reporters Wednesday night’s vote was historic. "I think it’s also a mainstream vote. This was not some sort of liberal social agenda," McCarthy said. "This is just saying that under housing and employment, people shouldn’t be discriminated against because of their real or perceived sexual orientation."

Representative Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, a Democrat from Ames, said Iowa’s major employers had lobbied for the bill. "Discrimination in any form is unacceptable," she said.

Janelle Rettig of Iowa City has been lobbying for the bill since she moved to Iowa 17 years ago, and she was in the House balcony to watch the bill pass.  "This is a great state and even though I’m from Illinois originally, I’m an Iowan now and I couldn’t be prouder of my state than today," she said.

According to Rettig, the bill sends a welcoming message to homosexuals. "Everyone belongs in Iowa. The doors are open…and you’re welcome," she said with tears in her eyes. "It’s just a great day."

The House added wording to the bill declaring that the legislation does not make gay marriage legal in Iowa. That addition to the bill was approved later Wednesday night by Iowa Senate, which endorsed the gay rights bill back in March. 

"After many years, I think this is a proud moment, a proud moment that continues the history in Iowa of recognizing people’s civil rights — the civil rights of all people in this state," Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs said.

Governor Chet Culver promises to sign the bill into law. Culver calls it "historic civil rights legislation" and in a written statement issued last night Culver said "we must create an Iowa in which we do not discriminate against anyone, anywhere, at anytime."

Critics of the bill did not raise any objections during Wednesday’s debate.

 

AUDIO: Henderson report (mp3 runs 45 sec)