Monday, January 4, 2010

Iowa's prospect for adoption of a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage

Under California's constitution, Yes on 8 had only to collect the required number of petition signatures (among other initiative requirements) to qualify Prop. 8 for the November 2008 ballot. But Iowans need the state legislature's approval to qualify a constitutional amendment for the ballot. The politics of the state legislature, the more demanding amendment process, and One Iowa's response will make it harder for supporters of a "marriage protection amendment" to succeed.

Art. X, Sec. 1, of the Iowa constitution requires one house of the legislature to propose an amendment; a majority of each house to approve it; a majority of each house to approve it again in the next legislative session; and, finally, a majority of the voters to approve it. The Iowa Independent reports that Republican legislators have for years failed to meet these requirements. As a result, voters have been unable to vote on whether to amend the constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

In Varnum v. Brien, 763 N.W.2d 862 (Iowa 2009), the state Supreme Court ruled that by restricting marriage to heterosexual couples, the state's marriage statute violated the state constitution's guarantee of equal protection. Last year, Republican state Senator Merlin Bartz asked marriage licensing officials to ignore the ruling. He plans to reintroduce a "marriage protection amendment" in the upcoming legislative session. On January 12th, the Iowa Family Policy Center will host a rally at the state capitol to launch its LUV ("Let Us Vote") Campaign, a movement to persuade Iowa legislators to approve a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Anticipating opposition to Varnum, One Iowa has been hosting public forums on marriage equality. (See coverage of the latest forum here.) On January 10th, the organization will launch its "Equality: Red Blue Purple" campaign, a "a coalition of organizations and individuals working to stop an amendment." One Iowa already has a powerful ally. State Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal told the Iowa Independent:
I will not write discrimination into the constitution of the State of Iowa. I’m going to block that at every opportunity. There will be no vote on the constitutional amendment.
Jeff Angelo, a former Republican state senator, agrees. He told the Iowa Independent,
There’s just no chance at all. Democratic leaders have really put themselves out there and said they are not going to allow a vote, so it won’t happen. I think Republicans know that.

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