The Iowa House has voted down, along party lines, an attempt to bring a statewide vote on gay marriage on step closer to reality. House Republican Leader Christopher Rants of Sioux City used a rarely-employed parliamentary move this morning that would have brought out of committee a resolution calling for a statewide vote on gay marriage, but it failed on a 50 to 46 vote.
"There were seven Democrats who previously voted for the constitutional amendment in 2005 and today they voted against it," Rants says. "Why they have flip-flopped on that position, I don’t really understand. I imagine it’s due to political pressure from their leadership." Rants suggests Republicans will use the issue against Democrats in the fall election. "The Democratic leadership has gotten their members to knuckle under," Rants says.
House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines says the "vast majority" of Democrats in the House believe marriage is between one man and one woman. "The issue is do you alter the Iowa Constitution because of one…district judge’s decision prior to having its appeal heard at the Supreme Court and that really would be unprecedented. It would be irresponsible," McCarthy says. "And so it’s our stance, knowing that to alter the constitution at minimum is a three-year process, that we wait and see what the Supreme court decides…prior to us embarking on a major effort to alter the Iowa constitution."
McCarthy accuses Rants of using today’s procedural vote to generate media interest and to ultimately use the event as campaign fodder. "Which would frankly be dishonest to do, but that’s the purpose of it and he was largely successful in generating press interest and public interest in this procedural motion today," McCarthy says. Democrats hold a majority of seats in the Iowa House and Senate and therefore get to determine the debate agenda, but Rants hints this isn’t the last time he may try a parliamentary maneuver to get the issue debated in the House.
"If I got a sense that some of the Democrats would change their minds and support us on this, we’d be willing to try it," Rants says. "…We still have 49 days to go before adjournment, so always keep your options open."
But Chuck Hurley of the Iowa Family Policy Council is ready to use this as an election issue in hopes of forcing Democrats out of office in November. "When the Kansas Legislature refused to allow debate and a vote on a constitutional amendment in 2005, 41 incumbents left office primarily based on that denial of the people’s desire to vote on a constitutional amendment," Hurley says.
McCarthy, the Democratic leader, suggests Republicans like Hurley and Rants are using the issue to try to regain political power at the statehouse. "I would hope that some conservatives with deeply held beliefs on this matter that they get to the point where they’re get sick and tired of being duped by the Tom Delays and Christopher Rants of the world that always dangle the moral values carrot in front of them and then proceed forth in sort of a special interest/raise money/power-at-all-costs sort of governing," McCarthy says.
Hurley counters that a majority of Iowans want to vote in a new constitutional amendment banning gay marriage here. "I can’t predict November 4th in Iowa. I can just tell you that there are a lot of people including several dozen who drove over today from Council Bluffs — got up at 4:30 this morning today to be here for the vote. There are thousands of people that have contacted our office that very concerned about this," Hurley says. "Will they remember in November? Probably."
Hurley warns if legislators don’t set the wheels in motion this year, the earliest Iowans could vote on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage would be April of 2011.