Pro-Equality Iowa Justices Face Challenge
Last year, the Iowa Supreme Court found in a unanimous ruling that gay and lesbian families in that state were entitled to civil marriage. An anti-gay group has now targeted three of the court’s justices for that decision.
Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices David Baker and Michael Streit are up for a "retention vote" this November. A political action committee is dedicated to seeing the three of them replaced, reported the Des Moines Register on Aug. 6.
Common Sense PAC was put together a few months ago by opponents of the Supreme Court’s decision, which made Iowa the first heartland state to extend marriage equality gay and lesbian families, the article said. The Iowa Supreme Court includes seven justices total, but the other four are not up for retention vote this year.
The article said that a cross-state bicycle ride sponsored by the Des Moines Register drew crude advertising for the group’s stance: plywood signs painted to resemble ballots dotted the ride’s route, listing the names of the three justices and depicting an check in the "no" box next to each name. Common Sense PAC spokesperson Dennis Guth told the Register that the group intended to post such signs on roads around the state.
Though the name of the group is the same as a national PAC run out of Virginia, according to Guth the groups are two separate entities. The Iowa PAC is run and draws its funds from locals, including chairman John Wacker, whose family farm has bankrolled the group. Public records showed that Common Sense PAC had spent just under $2,300 and still had a balance of just under $1,400 as of mid-July, the article said.
"We just want to clean house and start out fresh," Guth said.
But Iowa pro-equality groups have not been idle since seeing their state become one of only five that provide legal family parity for same-sex couples.
"Now is the time to work," One Iowa regional coordinator Liz Bennett told the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Predicted Bennett, "We have a big fight ahead of us." The Press-Citizen reported Aug. 6 that pro-marriage advocates were busy organizing rallies, even as a celebratory mood buoyed GLBT Americans following the Aug. 4 ruling from a San Francisco federal court that struck down an anti-gay California referendum, Proposition 8, which in 2008 rescinded what had been the existing right of same-sex families to enter into civil marriage.
That ruling has already been appealed, and could spend years wending its way through the judicial system. Many expect that the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually hear the case.
In Iowa, some speculate that the federal court ruling could energize anti-gay advocates and tilt the election results later this year; others, however, see the ruling as proof of the growing acceptance of same-sex families in America. "I think that sets the stage for what is happening in November," said Iowa City resident Sarah Portugue, 27, who is married to her same-sex life partner. "It takes the wind out of the sails of people fighting against gay marriage."
Iowa lawmakers have thus far refused to allow the rights of same-sex families to be put up to a Proposition 8-style popular vote. But a number of candidates for office in the state are using marriage equality as a political platform, noted the Press-Citizen.
An opinion piece published Aug. 6 in the same newspaper compared the court arguments used before the Iowa Supreme court with those heard by federal judge Vaughn Walker in the Proposition 8 suit. One central argument in both cases was that marriage is "for" procreation and should therefore be "preserved" as a special right for heterosexual couples. "Such a statement seems far more culturally than constitutionally based," observed the Press-Citizen’s op-ed, which went on to posit that marriage is a "relationship that some couples want to develop and grow by having children--either through biological means, adoption or artificial insemination. But there are many couples--dual-gender and same-sex--who, for a number of reasons, decide to marry despite the fact that they will never procreate."
The Iowa Supreme Court, like the federal court hearing the case against Proposition 8, concluded that the constitutional rights of due process and equal protection were the salient legal points needing to be addressed--and, that being the case, ruled in favor of family parity.
"We’re glad that Iowa has proven ahead of the curve when it comes to recognizing civil rights for its gay and lesbian citizen," read the Press-Citizen op-ed. "But we’ll be even happiness when those basic civil rights are recognized throughout the nation."
A New York Times article from Aug. 6 said that the verdict in the federal suit may have an impact on the midterm elections even though neither party wishes to see marriage equality become a major issue in this year’s election. Advocacy groups on both sides of the issue, however, are already playing up the political and cultural significance of the ruling.
"I definitely think it’s going to have an effect on the 2010 elections," said National Organization for Marriage (NOM) executive director Brian Brown. NOM was a major proponent of Proposition 8 during the bitterly divisive campaign that roiled California two years ago. "You’re going to see ads, you’re going to see folks standing up on this issue, and the people that support Walker’s decision are going to pay a price," Brown predicted.
Political consultant Robert Shrum disagreed. "I think it still enflames part of the right, but I think increasingly it alienates swing voters," Shrum told the Times.