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.

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?

YES NO NOT SURE

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?

FAVOR OPPOSE NOT SURE

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).

Broad coalition stands up for marriage equality in Iowa

The Iowa Legislature begins its 2010 session this week, and about 200 people attended One Iowa's Equality Red Blue Purple event on Sunday in Des Moines. A coalition of more than two dozen statewide organizations, including major labor unions, oppose a constitutional amendment to rescind same-sex marriage rights in Iowa. Republicans as well as Democrats have signed on as co-chairs of Equality Red Blue Purple, and dozens of local organizations have joined the coalition too. The full list of co-chairs and coalition members can be viewed here.

On Tuesday, supporters of marriage equality plan to deliver "over 15,000 postcard petitions to legislators in every district in the state," according to One Iowa's Justin Uebelhor. Opponents of same-sex marriage plan a large rally at the state capitol on Tuesday as well.

This week One Iowa's television ad, "This Place," will run in the Des Moines market. The ad was created soon after the Iowa Supreme Court's ruling last April. It depicts marriage equality as consistent with Iowa traditions of fairness and protecting our freedoms under the state constitution.

Click here to donate to keep this ad on the air for an extra week.

Democratic legislative leaders have vowed not to allow floor votes on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage during the 2010 legislative session. However, Republicans will try various procedural tricks to force a vote on the issue. I expect Democratic lawmakers to stand firm against a marriage amendment, and I hope that they won't cop out when confronted by constituents who want to ban gay marriage.

On a related note, a lawsuit against California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages, goes forward this week in federal court. The lead attorneys are David Boies and Ted Olson, who were on opposite sides during the Bush v Gore case that decided the 2000 presidential election. Writing in Newsweek, Olson laid out "The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage," which is worth a read.

However, not all advocates of marriage equality support the strategy of appealing Prop 8 in federal court. At Daily Kos, SoCalLiberal laid out the argument against pursuing this lawsuit, favoring an effort to repeal Prop 8 at the ballot box in 2012.

IA-Gov: Branstad robocalling Democrats

An alert Bleeding Heartland reader got a recorded phone call around dinnertime Monday, featuring former Republican Governor Terry Branstad.

Apparently there were a couple of questions about how Governor Chet Culver is doing and his handling of spending and the budget. Branstad's recorded voice touted his own record on economic policy.

The call also asked if the listener would support a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to between one man and one woman, and if the listener would vote for Branstad in the upcoming Republican primary.

According to my e-mail tipster, the call said it was paid for by the Branstad for Governor comittee, and gave a phone number as well as the address for Branstad's campaign website.

This particular household has two registered Democrats and no registered Republicans, and the homeowner has had the same phone number for more than 15 years. So I figured either the calling firm was using a bad list, or Branstad's campaign is reaching out to find Democrats who aren't happy with Culver.

Since I posted about this robocall at Bleeding Heartland, a bunch of other Iowa Democrats in households with no Republicans have reported receiving the same call, including State Representative Tyler Olson of Cedar Rapids. It seems clear that the target universe for this call was active Democratic voters.

If Branstad's campaign is trying to identify Democrats willing to cross over to vote for him in the Republican primary, it makes me wonder what his internal polling says about the GOP race. I've been assuming that Bob Vander Plaats has virtually no chance of overcoming Branstad's financial and institutional advantages during the primary, but if Marco Rubio can catch up to Charlie Crist in Florida, maybe Vander Plaats can win by running to Branstad's right.

Several polls have shown Branstad leading Culver by a substantial margin, although the latest Iowa poll for the Des Moines Register undercut Branstad's electability argument somewhat by showing Vander Plaats leading Culver as well. Perhaps Republican voters will come to believe they can beat Culver with the man favored by social conservative activists as opposed to Branstad, who was drafted by elite Republican donors.

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