Caution: Now entering a fact- and logic-free zone

I've heard some strange arguments against marriage equality, but the latest from Iowa Family Policy Center President Chuck Hurley is a doozy. Reacting to a new report on HIV and syphilis rates among gay and bisexual men, Hurley asserted,


“The Iowa Legislature outlawed smoking [in some public places] in an effort to improve health and reduce the medical costs that are often passed on to the state,” Hurley said. “The secondhand impacts of certain homosexual acts are arguably more destructive, and potentially more costly to society than smoking.” [...]


“Iowa lawmakers need to pay attention to hard facts and not be persuaded by emotion laden half-truths,” he said. “Because of their unwillingness to correct the error of last April’s Iowa Supreme Court opinion, the Iowa Legislature is responsible for sanctioning activities that will lead to dramatically higher rates of HIV and syphilis in Iowa.”


Where to begin? Smoking increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and various respiratory ailments, causing an estimated 438,000 preventable deaths every year nationwide. In Iowa, smoking directly causes an estimated 4,400 deaths each year, and secondhand smoke claims another 440 lives. Smoking causes about $1 billion in health care costs every year in Iowa, of which about $301 million is covered by Medicaid.

AIDS is a serious health threat in the U.S., but not on the same scale as smoking. AIDS has caused fewer than 20,000 deaths nationwide per year in the past decade. The total number of AIDS deaths in this country since the epidemic began is estimated at just under 600,000. I was unable to find statistics showing how many Iowans have died of AIDS, but according to this report for the Iowa Department of Public Health, 114 Iowans were diagnosed with HIV in 2005, and 79 Iowans were diagnosed with AIDS the same year. The numbers may have increased somewhat since then, but AIDS is nowhere near as "destructive" and "costly" to Iowans as smoking. Iowa's syphilis rate is far below the national average, and none of the states with the highest syphilis rates permit same-sex marriages. If Iowa legislators want to influence the syphilis rate, they should focus on providing adequate funding levels for STD testing and ensuring that young people have access to medically accurate sex education.

Hurley's argument is not only fact-free, but also illogical on several levels. He seems to think that allowing same-gender couples to get married is going to encourage many more Iowans to experiment with gay sex. Do you know anyone who decided to become gay because they knew they'd be able to get married? Has homosexual activity diminished in New York and New Jersey since those states' legislatures declined to legalize same-sex marriage? Did California's Proposition 8 reduce the number of gays and lesbians having sex there?

If Hurley is worried about promiscuity and sexually-transmitted diseases, he should be happy to see gay couples settle down and get married. His opposition to gay marriage is more coherent than, say, Terry Branstad's, but it's also more detached from reality. Maybe Hurley's latest comments aren't the worst argument ever against gay marriage, but they are certainly a contender.

Contrary to the strange fantasies of the Iowa Family Policy Center crowd, the Iowa Supreme Court didn't make the sky fall last April. Fortunately, most Iowans understand that our state legislators have more important things to do than overturn same-sex marriage rights. They also sense that giving legal recognition to the relationships of committed same-sex couples does no harm to other people. More than 90 percent of respondents in a statewide poll conducted last September said gay marriage had caused "no real change" in their lives.

Republicans failed to bring a constitutional amendment on marriage to a floor vote in the Iowa House or Senate this year. However, they kept trying to inject the marriage issue into unrelated legislation, most recently a bill that would take gun rights away from people who are subject to a restraining order or have been convicted of domestic abuse crimes.

Iowa Ranks Second in the Nation in Wind Energy

A new study by the Iowa Policy Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization based in Iowa City, finds that energy derived from wind accounts for up to 20 percent of Iowa's total electricity production, and is helping to keep the state's power costs among the lowest in the nation.

From the Center for Rural Affairs:

Authors of the study said it debunks arguments that alternative energy and other measures to combat climate change are too expensive. The study was conducted by the Iowa Policy Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization based in Iowa City.

"Those people who tell us we can't do anything about global climate change because it will be too expensive are wrong, Iowa is proving it wrong," said David Osterberg, an Iowa Policy Project researcher and one of the authors of the study.

The study found that wind produced 3,670 megawatts of electricity in the state. If that power were used solely within the state it would produce enough electricity to power 940,000 homes roughly three-quarters of the state's homes.

The study noted that MidAmerican Energy is one of the most aggressive utility companies in the nation on wind energy, securing approval in December to install another 1,001 megawatts of production.

Iowa continues to rank second to Texas in wind production in the United States, the study found.

The authors pointed to research from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory showing that roughly three-quarters of Iowa has high enough wind at 80 meters above the ground to produce wind energy.

"Thus, even as Iowa is leading the way in harnessing wind energy, there is significant room to increase our use of the wind's renewable power," the study said.

"America need not fear taking strong steps to address climate change, new estimates of Iowa wind production and production potential show this," said Teresa Galluzzo, another author of the study.

Coal-fired plants produce about 75 percent of the state's electricity, and there is one nuclear plant in the state.

In examining electricity costs, the study found that Iowans paid about 6 cents per kilowatt hour in 1998. That climbed to 7 cents per kilowatt hour by 2008. Over the same time period, national average electricity costs went from 7 cents per kilowatt hour to nearly 10 cents.

"Amidst Iowa's massive expansion of wind power, our average electricity prices have remained below the national average and in fact have not increased as quickly as the national average price in the last four years," the study said.

The study said MidAmerican is the national leader in wind generation by rate-regulated utilities, with 1,393 megawatts either in operation or under construction. That's in addition to the 1,001 megawatts of capacity approved in December. The study said Iowa is the seventh windiest state in the nation.

The MidAmerican Energy Company is the largest utility in Iowa providing service to more than 723,000 electric customers and more than 702,000 natural gas customers in a 10,600 square-mile area from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to the Quad Cities area of Iowa and Illinois. The largest communities served by MidAmerican are Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Sioux City, Waterloo, Iowa City and Council Bluffs, Iowa; the Quad Cities area of Iowa and Illinois; and Sioux Falls, S.D. As year end 2009, MidAmerican was capable of generating nearly 7,200 megawatts: approximately 50 percent fueled by coal; 21 percent natural gas and oil; 10 percent nuclear; 19 percent wind, hydroelectric and biomass; and less than 1 percent by other nonrenewable sources.

While wind energy sector has been growing rapidly in the United States - it grew by 39 percent in 2009 - wind still accounts for less than 5 percent of overall US energy production. What's remarkable about the Iowa report is that Iowa is quietly achieving European levels of alternative energy production. Denmark, one of the world leader's in wind energy, derives 25 percent of its energy needs from wind. 

IA-Gov, IA-Sen: New poll numbers

Scott Rasmussen released a new poll of the Iowa governor and U.S. Senate races today. Rasmussen surveyed 500 "likely Iowa voters" on February 18.

Given Rasmussen's usual "house effect" favoring Republican candidates, I expected the numbers to be worse for Democrats than other recent Iowa polling. Instead, they were comparable to last week's Research 2000 Iowa poll for KCCI-TV and the Selzer and Co. poll for the Des Moines Register, which was conducted three weeks ago.

Like the other pollsters, Rasmussen found Governor Chet Culver well behind Republican front-runner Terry Branstad. Like Research 2000, Rasmussen found Senator Chuck Grassley above 50 percent against Democratic challengers, but well below Grassley's usual re-election numbers and even below the numbers Rasmussen found for Grassley in late January.

More details are after the jump.

There's more...

Yet another poll shows Iowans not eager to overturn marriage equality

This week Research 2000 polled 600 likely Iowa voters for KCCI-TV, the CBS affiliate in Des Moines. The survey included a couple of questions related to the rights of same-sex couples:

QUESTION: As you may know, same-sex marriages have been legal in Iowa for over a year. Would you favor or oppose a constitutional amendment which would over turn current law allowing same sex marriages in Iowa?


ALL 39% 42% 19%

MEN 43% 40% 17%

WOMEN 35% 44% 21%

DEMOCRATS 22% 64% 14%

REPUBLICANS 66% 13% 21%

INDEPENDENTS 33% 45% 22%

QUESTION: Regardless of how you feel about same-sex marriages, do you favor or oppose allowing same-sex couples the same benefits allowed to heterosexual couples, known as civil unions?


ALL 51% 40% 9%

MEN 47% 44% 9%

WOMEN 55% 36% 9%

DEMOCRATS 77% 21% 2%

REPUBLICANS 16% 68% 16%

INDEPENDENTS 55% 35% 10%

Less than a year after the Iowa Supreme Court's Varnum v Brien ruling, a slight plurality of Iowans would not support a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Among independents, a plurality oppose a constitutional amendment and a strong majority would support equal rights for same-sex couples in the form of civil unions. Even among Republican respondents, just two-thirds supported banning gay marriage.

Research 2000's results are similar to the findings of a statewide poll Selzer and Co. conducted for the Des Moines Register last September. In that survey, 41 percent of respondents said they would vote for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, while 40 percent would vote against such an amendment. In addition, 92 percent of respondents said marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples had led to "no real change" in their own lives.

In the most recent Des Moines Register poll, conducted less than a month ago, more than 60 percent of respondents said gay marriage "does not deserve the [Iowa] Legislature's limited time" this session.

Iowa conservative blogger Shane Vander Hart has complained that the Des Moines Register asked the wrong question two polls in a row. He thinks pollsters ought to ask Iowans whether citizens should be able to vote on a definition of marriage. The Iowa Republican blog commissioned a poll asking that question last summer and found that 67 percent of respondents said yes. However, that Republican poll conveniently failed to ask respondents whether they would support or oppose a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Last week Democrats in the Iowa House and Senate defeated Republican efforts to force a floor vote on a marriage amendment. Although GOP candidates and interest groups will push their "let us vote" campaign this fall, I am less and less worried about the marriage issue hurting Democrats in the 2010 statehouse elections. Economic issues will be far more important to voters.

New Iowa poll: Gay marriage not worth legislature's time

More than 60 percent of Iowans think gay marriage "does not deserve the Legislature's limited time" this session, according to the latest poll conducted by Selzer and Associates for the Des Moines Register.

The poll surveyed 805 Iowa adults from January 31 to Feburary 3, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent. The question named six issues on which legislation has been introduced during the 2010 session, which has been shortened by 20 days due to budget constraints:

The state Legislature can address large and small issues during the course of the session. For the following issues, please tell me if you think the issue does or does not deserve the Legislature's limited time. Puppy mills. Gay marriage. Driving and texting. Gun control. Gambling. Payday loans.

62 percent of respondents said gay marriage does not deserve the legislature's time, while only 36 percent said it does.

Here's hoping this poll will bolster the spine of any wavering statehouse Democrats. Iowa House Republicans are expected to use procedural maneuvers this week to try to force a vote on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. When they tried that last April, two of the 56 House Democrats joined Republicans on a procedural vote. House Minority leader Kraig Paulsen wasn't deterred by the latest poll, telling the Des Moines Register,

"The majority party has successfully convinced people that that's something that takes a lengthy period of time," Paulsen said. "There's no reason it should have to take more than 30 minutes."

Poll respondents presumably know little about how much committee and floor time a marriage vote would consume, but I think Paulsen is missing the point here. Selzer in effect asked Iowans what's important for the legislature to handle. More than three-fifths of respondents said gay marriage doesn't rise to that level this session.

Notably, a recent poll commissioned by Republicans also suggests that gay marriage is a low priority for most Iowans. Voter Consumer Research conducted that poll in late January for The Iowa Republican blog and the Concordia Group (a political consulting firm run by Nick Ryan, with ties to the American Future Fund). Respondents were asked which three issues are most important to them: "Forty-one percent said jobs and unemployment, thirty-three said the economy, and twenty-eight percent said education." Way down the priority list was "moral values" with just 14 percent, Craig Robinson indicated in this comment thread.

Last September, a Selzer poll for the Des Moines Register asked several questions about same-sex marriage. About 41 percent of respondents said they would vote for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, while 40 percent would vote against such an amendment. In addition, 92 percent of respondents said marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples had led to "no real change" in their own lives.

The conservative GOP base expects Republican legislators to try every trick in the book to bring a marriage vote to the floor. Iowa Democrats should make sure the public knows that while they were focusing on more important issues, Republicans kept trying to waste time on a marriage vote. Based on this polling as well as the results from last year's special election in Iowa House district 90, I doubt gay marriage will be a winning issue for Republican candidates this November.

Iowa has a lengthy process for amending the constitution. Assuming the state legislature does not pass a marriage amendment this year, the soonest a same-sex marriage ban could appear on a statewide ballot would be 2014 (only if the legislature elected in 2010 passed an amendment in either 2011 or 2012, and the legislature elected in 2012 passed an amendment in 2013 or 2014).


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