One simple question, three non-answers on Iowa gay marriage

Everyone who moderates a debate this year could learn from the journalists who guided the May 1 Iowa Republican gubernatorial candidates' debate: Todd Dorman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Paul Yeager of Iowa Public Television, and Jeneane Beck of Iowa Public Radio. Too many journalists ask long-winded questions that are easy to evade, or ask about hot topics of no lasting importance, or ask about policies outside the scope of the office the candidates are seeking. In contrast, almost every question the panelists asked during Saturday's debate was direct and addressed an issue the next governor of Iowa will face.

Mind you, asking an unambiguous question doesn't guarantee that you'll get a straight answer from a politician. Look what happened when Dorman asked the Republicans, "Can you identify one tangible way Iowa has been harmed during a full year of legal same-sex marriage?"

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One simple question, three non-answers on Iowa gay marriage

Everyone who moderates a debate this year could learn from the journalists who guided the May 1 Iowa Republican gubernatorial candidates' debate: Todd Dorman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Paul Yeager of Iowa Public Television, and Jeneane Beck of Iowa Public Radio. Too many journalists ask long-winded questions that are easy to evade, or ask about hot topics of no lasting importance, or ask about policies outside the scope of the office the candidates are seeking. In contrast, almost every question the panelists asked during Saturday's debate was direct and addressed an issue the next governor of Iowa will face.

Mind you, asking an unambiguous question doesn't guarantee that you'll get a straight answer from a politician. Look what happened when Dorman asked the Republicans, "Can you identify one tangible way Iowa has been harmed during a full year of legal same-sex marriage?"

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Update on marriage equality news in Iowa

While writing about other topics during the past week I got behind on Iowa marriage equality news. I did some catching up after the jump.

First things first, though. If you are planning a same-sex marriage in Iowa, please note that this will become possible on April 27, not April 24 as was widely reported after the Iowa Supreme Court announced its Varnum v Brien decision. Iowa's marriage application forms have already been changed, but the Supreme Court needs to issue an order putting its ruling into effect. Because of furloughs related to budget cuts, the court pushed back that date from April 24 to April 27.

One Iowa, the main advocacy organization for marriage equality in this state, wants to hear from people planning same-sex marriages in Iowa. They have some helpful resources. You can also sign up to follow One Iowa on Twitter here.

More links and a few laughs are below the fold.

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Iowa House Democrats refuse to debate gay marriage ban

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.

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Iowa Senate leader dares conservatives to push for Constitutional Convention

Iowa Senate Majority leader Mike Gronstal is on a tear this week. On Monday he rejected Republican efforts to bring a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to the Senate floor. Read his remarks here (scroll to the bottom) or watch the video:

On Tuesday Gronstal in effect dared conservatives to push for a Constitutional Convention, which might consider adopting an amendment to ban gay marriage. From the Des Moines Register:

"I'm inclined to hope they succeed, if that's their strategy," said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, who has saluted Friday's Iowa Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage. "There's a lot of good, progressive issues that we could pursue: a woman's right to choose, guaranteed health care for all Iowa citizens, workers' rights -- so if there are people that want to help us get to a constitutional convention, that's kind of my dream world."

If Iowa voters approve a ballot initiative next November on calling a Constitutional Convention, the Iowa legislature will draw up rules for selecting delegates to that body. If the convention approves proposed constitutional amendments, a special election will be scheduled, and voters will consider each amendment separately, not as a bloc.

Some Iowa Republicans don't sound eager to roll the dice on this procedure:

Sen. Ron Wieck, R-Sioux City, said he will likely vote against holding a convention. "We have bumps in the road but we're operating pretty well without going in and messing with the Constitution," Wieck said.

Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley said he will continue to push for a second route toward a constitutional amendment on gay marriage: votes by the Iowa House and Iowa Senate in two consecutive general assemblies followed by a vote of the people.

But McKinley understands why some might have an interest in a constitutional convention.

"I think the reason there is some appeal at least on the surface is citizens feel very disenfranchised from their government," McKinley said. "Democracies are crazy things. Sometimes the people want to do things that maybe the elites don't agree with."

Although I'm confident that over time a large majority of Iowans will come to support marriage equality, I confess that I am a bit nervous about the issue coming to a statewide vote in 2010 or 2011. At the same time, like Gronstal, I can imagine lots of good amendments that might come out of a Constitutional Convention.

Share any relevant thoughts or speculation in this thread.

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