Iowa House Democrats refuse to debate gay marriage ban
by desmoinesdem, Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 08:56:41 PM EDT
Following up on my last post, Iowa House Democrats rejected a second effort on Thursday to bring a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to the floor for debate.
On Thursday morning Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy ruled out of order an attempt to bring House Joint Resolution 6 to the floor. The bill was not approved by any House committee before the "funnel" deadline that passed last month. Republicans wanted to suspend the rules to allow the bill to be debated, but as the Des Moines Register explained,
Murphy's ruling today stemmed from the fact that the House cannot suspend rules it has enacted jointly with the Senate. House members can only suspend their own rules.
The only way to suspend the joint rules is for someone to introduce a resolution in the Rules and Administration Committee. If it starts in the House, then there's a vote in House committee and in the full House. If it passes, it goes to Senate committee then a vote of the full Senate.
Republicans vowed not to give up, and during this afternoon's debate, Representative Chris Rants offered an amendment that
would have gutted a $1.25 billion health and human services bill, House File 811, and replaced it with a proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
Murphy ruled the amendment out of order, but Rants called for a suspension of the rules so his amendment could be debated. The motion to suspend failed on a 54-44 vote, with two Democrats voting with Republicans: Dolores Mertz and Geri Huser. Mertz is a co-sponsor of HJR 6 and a generally lousy Democrat (see here and here). I also learned today from Daily Kos commenter Queen Boudica that Mertz is active with the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council. Geri Huser is a business-friendly Democrat who won't back key legislative priorities for organized labor. Shame on them for trying to sacrifice a health care bill in order to pass an amendment that would put discrimination in our state constitution.
If any group out there is looking for state-level Democrats to primary in 2010, please add Mertz and Huser to your list. I would imagine that a lot of Iowa Democrats would enthusiastically back progressive challengers to these two. Mertz represents a conservative area of northwest Iowa, but even if a "better Democrat" lost the general election, I believe we would be better off without Mertz in the House Democratic caucus. Huser didn't even have a Republican challenger in 2008, so this is a prime district for electing a better Democrat.
All Iowans represented by one of the 54 House Democrats who stood firm with Speaker Murphy should call or e-mail to say thank you. A few other House Democrats have indicated that they are personally uncomfortable with same-sex marriage, but they did the right thing today by not letting Republicans hijack debate on a health and human services bill.
Murphy released this statement:
"The latest political stunt by House Republicans this afternoon proves this is all about politics. It's stunning that Republicans would choose to gut health care for our children, veterans, seniors and disabled Iowans to score political points.
Despite today's political posturing and attempts to circumvent rules agreed to by Republicans earlier this year, my goal is to keep our focus on helping middle class families struggling to make ends meet and balancing the state budget.
Iowans expect us to work together on the issues that unite us --good-paying jobs, affordable health care and a quality education."
In more good news, the Des Moines Register quoted Governor Chet Culver confirming that he opposes HJR 6:
"I think we have to be very respectful of the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution. This court in a unanimous decision has stated that it is discriminatory to deny people rights that they're given under the current Constitution," [Culver] said.
Culver released a statement supporting the Iowa Supreme Court's ruling on April 7, four days after the court announced its decision. Most other prominent Iowa Democrats reacted more quickly, but Culver told the Des Moines Register that he didn't want to make a "knee-jerk reaction":
"I think it's appropriate to take as much time as necessary, and in my case about four days, to thoroughly read the decision. ... It's 69 pages long. It involves a lot of complex legal arguments on both sides," he said.
Culver said he sat down with Attorney General Tom Miller on Monday to talk about the ruling. He had conversations with other "interested parties." He read many of the "thousands" of messages his office received.
Truth be told, I want to believe Bleeding Heartland user ragbrai08's hunch about the reason for the delay:
Hopefully [...] this means they conducted a quickie poll and found little enthusiasm for amending the constitution.