Iowans giving state legislators earful about high court's 'gay marriage' ruling

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DES MOINES, Iowa (BP)--Iowa's Supreme Court may have legalized "gay marriage," but that doesn't mean the state's citizens have accepted it -- and they're letting their legislators know.

Unlike California -- where citizens gathered petitions to place an amendment banning "gay marriage" on the ballot -- Iowa's law requires a constitutional amendment overturning the court's decision first to go through the legislature, which is controlled by Democrats whose leaders have promised to block it.

Supporters of the amendment, though, are urging Iowans to repeatedly call their legislators and urge them to pass the amendment (H.J.R. 6 in the state House). It appears many Iowans already have done that.

"Iowans are rising up and contacting their legislators in numbers and in waves that I have not heard of before," Bryan English, a spokesperson for the Iowa Family Policy Center, which supports the amendment, told Baptist Press. "Over the weekend people were actually getting in their cars and driving to the homes of some of these legislators to make their case for the opportunity to vote on a marriage amendment."

The Iowa Family Policy Center sent out an e-mail to its constituents Wednesday, urging supporters of the marriage amendment to come to the capitol Thursday morning at 8:30, after which a procedural vote on the amendment in the House is set to take place. Supporters are urged to wear red. "This is a day that you will tell you children and grandchildren about -- make every effort to be a part of this effort," the e-mail, also posted on LetUsVoteIowa.org, read.

Eric Schumacher, pastor of Northbrook Baptist Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, said he has contacted his legislators and has urged his congregation to do the same.

"[A]s citizens in a 'government of the people, by the people, and for the people,' we have both the privilege and the responsibility to act so that our civil government functions as God intended -- to approve what is good and to punish what is bad," he told BP. "To neglect participation in such a government is to squander a privilege that few Christians have enjoyed in church history."

But the situation is certain to test the resolve of amendment backers. Although a majority of legislators might support the amendment if it were to come to a floor vote, Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal and House Speaker Pat Murphy, both Democrats, released a statement praising the court's ruling.

"It will not come up," Gronstal was quoted as saying during a press conference. "I have no intention of taking it up."

Gronstal has changed his position since 1998, when he joined a majority of legislators in passing a bill that banned "gay marriage" in state law. Although House Speaker Murphy now backs "gay marriage," Democratic House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy may not. McCarthy has said in the past he opposes "gay marriage," but asked about it after the ruling he told reporters, "My personal opinion is irrelevant at this stage." Senate President Jack Kibbie, a Democrat, said after the ruling that he backed an amendment. But Gronstal controls what bills are heard in his chamber, as does Murphy in his.

Compounding the problem for amendment supporters is the fact that legislators are in the final days of the session. An amendment must pass by a simple majority in two consecutive sessions in order to be placed on the ballot.

"If it were to come to the floor, it would pass in both chambers," said English, who is urging Iowans to contact not only their legislators but also Murphy and Gronstal. "That's why the majority party won't let it come to the floor, because they know where the people of Iowa stand, and they know that even the people in their own party would vote for it. It's a very small minority of folks that support what's going on with the Supreme Court."

It likely would pass on the ballot, too. A University of Iowa poll of 978 adults conducted in March found that only 26 percent of adults support "gay marriage." Fifty-eight said they'd support a marriage amendment in one form or the other, and only 30 percent said they'd accept a court decision legalizing "gay marriage."

Iowa's Democratic governor also has changed his tune. In January 2008 -- after a lower judge sided with "gay marriage" supporters -- Gov. Chet Culver told reporters, "We'll do whatever it takes to protect marriage between a man and a woman." On Tuesday, though, he released a statement saying, "[A]fter careful consideration and a thorough reading of the court's decision, I am reluctant to support amending the Iowa Constitution to add a provision that our Supreme Court has said is unlawful and discriminatory." Although Culver technically plays no role in placing a constitutional amendment on the ballot, his position on the issue is viewed as important in swaying legislators.

Sen. Matt McCoy, a Democrat and the chamber's first openly homosexual legislator, said "gay marriage" is "here to stay" in part because the Iowa Constitution "can't be changed quickly."

"If this can happen here in the heartland, if this can happen in Iowa, then it can happen everywhere else in the nation," he said in a video posted on YouTube.

But Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley, a Republican, told reporters his constituents are outraged at the court's ruling.

"To say people are hot is an understatement," he was quoted as saying in the Quad City Times.

McKinley also said the amendment would pass in the Senate if it came to floor.

"[Gronstal] is the only person in the Iowa Senate standing in the way of allowing three million people a chance to have their vote," McKinley's office said in a statement.

If the amendment continues to be blocked, the issue almost certainly will become central to the 2010 state election, when Culver and state legislators are up for re-election. U.S. Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Iowa who supports a marriage amendment, has indicated the court's decision makes him more likely to run for governor.

"I think that could be a problem for both Republicans and Democrats -- anyone who doesn't step up and do what they need to do to defend marriage is going to have to consider the political consequences," English said.

Iowans, he said, have not changed their views on marriage overnight.

"Iowa is still very much a Midwestern traditional state," he said, "and to presume that seven Supreme Court justices who are unelected and unaccountable to the people somehow represent a shift in public opinion, that's quite a stretch."


Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. Iowans can contact their legislators through the two switchboards (Senate switchboard is 515-281-3371; House switchboard is 515-281-3221). Iowans can find their legislator at www.legis.state.ia.us/FindLeg. For more information about the campaign to pass a marriage amendment in Iowa, visit www.LetUsVoteIowa.org.

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