Republican lawmakers are pressing for an amendment to the state constitution that would ban gay marriage in Iowa, but Democrats who control the legislature’s debate agenda have made it clear they’re not interested.
“As long as I’m the leader, it’s not going to be debated in the legislature,” Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal told reporters Friday morning.
Gronstal, who’s from Council Bluffs, applauds today’s Iowa Supreme Court decision which paves the way for gay marriage in Iowa.
“I think today’s civil rights ruling continues a long, proud history in Iowa,” Gronstal said. “Twenty-five years before Lincoln freed the slaves, our territorial supreme court said you couldn’t put people into slavery in this state.”
Gronstal points to other landmarks, such Iowa being the first state to allow women to work as lawyers and the first state to say “separate but equal” schools weren’t constitutional.
“Iowa’s just got a very long, proud history of being a champion of civil rights,” Gronstal said. “I think the supreme court decision — their seven-to-nothing, unanimous decision — upholding the rights of gay and lesbian people to marry, I think that’s cause for celebration.”
Senate Republican Leader Paul McKinley of Chariton accuses Gronstal of doing an about-face on the issue. Back in 1998, Gronstal voted for the “Defense of Marriage Act” which declared the only legally-recognized marriages in Iowa were between a man and a woman.
“Mike Gronstal, Tom Vilsack, even Matt McCoy voted for that,” McKinley says. Tom Vilsack is the former Iowa governor. Matt McCoy is the only openly gay member of the Iowa legislature.
In an interview with Radio Iowa, Gronstal confirmed he voted for that bill which declared the only legal marriages in Iowa were those between a man and a woman.
“Community attitudes have changed on this subject. I also think people have been educated as to the rights that are denied gay couples, so I think society’s moved forward on this issue,” Gronstal said. “Iowa’s got a long, proud history of civil rights legislation and this is one more step in that direction of giving all people equal rights under the law.”
But McKinley, the Republican leader in the Senate, charges that Gronstal and other Democrats “implied” a vote would be allowed on a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage. “Well, the time has come,” McKinley says. “The legislature’s weighed in that (marriage) is between a man and a woman. Seven supreme court justices have weighed in that it’s between a man and a man or a woman and a woman. It’s time for the people to decide.”
House Republican Leader Kraig Paulsen on Thursday said the 2009 legislature needed to do just two things: pass a balanced budget and create jobs for Iowans — and he was comfortable with delaying a debate on gay marriage. After the court ruling, Paulsen changed his mind.
“The legislature needs to weigh in on this,” Paulsen says. “I don’t think the ruling reflects the values of Iowans and my hope is that we’ll address it before we adjourn. I don’t think it has to take up much debate time or energy and then Iowans can resolve this split between what the legislature decided in a bipartisan fashion several years ago and now what the judicial branch has decided.”
Governor Chet Culver, a Democrat, issued a cautious statement that gives few hints of his views, saying only that the decision “addresses a complicated and emotional issue, one on which Iowans have strong views and opinions on both sides.”
Culver went on to say the “next responsible step is to thoroughly review this decision…with (his) legal counsel and the Attorney General, before reacting to what it means for Iowa.”