10 days until first election tests marriage equality in Iowa

Voters will elect a new state representative for Iowa House district 90 in a special election on September 1. The southeastern Iowa district leans slightly Democratic in terms of voter registration, but political scientists have found that special elections and by-elections often favor opposition parties, whose supporters are more motivated to turn out. (Democrats control both chambers of the Iowa legislature as well as the governor's chair.)

Neither Republican Stephen Burgmeier nor Democrat Curt Hanson has highlighted same-sex marriage rights during the brief campaign in district 90, but a major advertising campaign funded by the National Organization for Marriage is likely to put the issue front and center during the final stretch.

Burgmeier is one of three Republican supervisors in Jefferson County, most of which lies in Iowa House district 90. He made a show of posturing against same-sex marriage on April 27, the day the Iowa Supreme Court's Varnum v Brien ruling went into effect. He mentioned his support for giving Iowans "a right to vote on the definition of marriage" in the press release announcing his candidacy for the special election.

However, the Republican-aligned interest groups that are staffing his campaign have decided to focus on taxes and the state budget (for instance, in this television ad). The issues page on Burgmeier's campaign site does not mention gay marriage or abortion. That has angered a right-winger who calls Burgmeier a "sellout" and is running in district 90 with an emphasis on social issues.

Chase Martyn of Iowa Independent posted yesterday that the National Organization for Marriage "has purchased $86,060 worth of television and radio ads" to help Burgmeier. That is a major ad buy for an Iowa legislative district. Martyn uploaded an independent expenditure report (pdf file) that the group filed with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, but that document didn't include information about the content or placement of the ads.

I don't know yet how the NOM is framing the marriage equality issue for this campaign. I also haven't heard whether the ads mainly support the Republican or also attack the Democratic candidate. I have asked Iowans in the viewing area for this district to post comments in this thread at Bleeding Heartland.

I hope the NOM's Iowa ads turn out to be as laughable as the group's "Gathering Storm" commercial from April, which spawned many parodies on YouTube and a brilliant response from Stephen Colbert.

The Democratic candidate for the special election is Curt Hanson, a retired driver's education teacher who has won various teaching awards. Hanson is campaigning on bread-and-butter issues: jobs, health care, education, and balancing the budget. He doesn't mention marriage equality or the Iowa Supreme Court ruling on his site's issues page.

Democrats hold a 56-44 majority in the Iowa House. House Speaker Pat Murphy strongly supported the Varnum v Brien ruling and has made clear he will block efforts to bring a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage to the House floor. A victory in this special election would be a shot in the arm for the Republican Party of Iowa, which has suffered net losses of seats in the Iowa legislature for four straight elections. In fact, Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn has called the district 90 special election a "must win."

If Burgmeier is successful on September 1, expect his campaign strategy to be copied in competitive legislative districts next year. Republican candidates can focus on economic issues while outside groups pay for ads attacking gay marriage.

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Open thread: 100 days of marriage equality in Iowa

Well, 101 days technically, but who's counting?

So far my marriage has not collapsed under the strain of sharing rights with gays and lesbians. The worst thing that's happened to me because of marriage equality was making a faux pas when I ran into an acquaintance I hadn't seen in a long time. She's been living with another woman for at least 15 years, so I asked if they had gotten married. She looked surprised, then said, "Oh, we're not...that way. I mean, I know everyone thinks we are, but we're not." Oops!

We'll get our first hint as to whether Iowa Republicans can exploit their base's anger about this issue on September 1, when there will be a special election in a competitive Iowa House district. One of the people running the Republican candidate's campaign is the chief candidate recruiter for the Iowa Family Policy Center. In April, the Iowa Family Policy Center organized a petition drive to pressure county recorders not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

This thread is for anything on your mind tonight.

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Gay marriage will be issue in Iowa House special election

Iowans in House district 90 will elect a new state representative in a special election on September 1, and the Republican candidate appears to be planning to make same-sex marriage a major campaign issue.

The seat opened up when State Representative John Whitaker, a Democrat, accepted a position with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Republicans didn't even run a candidate against Whitaker in 2008, but Iowa House district 90 has been competitive in the recent past. The southeastern Iowa district contains all of Van Buren County and parts of Wapello and Jefferson counties, including the Fairfield area (home to Maharishi University and the so-called "Silicorn Valley").

The Democratic candidate for the special election is Curt Hanson, a retired driver's education teacher who has won various teaching awards. Hanson plans to campaign on bread-and-butter issues: jobs, health care, education, and balancing the budget.

The Republican candidate is Jefferson County supervisor Steve Burgmeier. His name rang a bell for me because the Jefferson County supervisors made a show of posturing against same-sex marriage on April 27, the day the Iowa Supreme Court's Varnum v Brien ruling went into effect. Burgmeier and his colleagues passed a resolution calling on Iowa legislators to take a stand against same-sex marriage. Since the Iowa Legislature had just adjourned for the year on April 26, the resolution served no purpose other than to put Burgmeier and on record loudly opposing marriage equality. He was probably planning to run for the legislature even before Whitaker's seat opened up; a Republican Bleeding Heartland commenter had been recruiting Burgmeier to run next year in Iowa Senate district 45 (one of the GOP's better pickup opportunities in the upper chamber).

Burgmeier's press release announcing his candidacy for Iowa House district 90 highlighted two issues: cutting government spending and giving Iowans "a right to vote on the definition of marriage." This is the new politically-correct Republican messaging. Instead of acknowledging that they want to write discrimination into the Iowa Constitution, Republicans say, "Iowans deserve the right to vote" on a marriage amendment, as if we were in the habit of subjecting minority rights to a majority vote in this country.

Republicans would like to win this special election for many reasons, not least to fire up their base about the potential to demagogue against committed same-sex Iowa couples next year. Democrats hold a 56-44 majority in the Iowa House. House Speaker Pat Murphy strongly supported the Varnum v Brien ruling and has made clear he will block efforts to bring a marriage amendment to the House floor.

You can donate to Curt Hanson's campaign by clicking here. A strong volunteer effort will be crucial in this low-turnout special election, so if you live within striking distance of southeast Iowa, please consider volunteering for Hanson's campaign before September 1.

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Iowa recognizes all California marriages

I was so sorry to hear today's news out of California. While I have no doubt that a future referendum will reverse Prop 8, that process will take years and resources that could have been spent organizing in other states.

Couples left in legal limbo should be aware that the state of Iowa recognizes the marriages of same-sex couples who tied the knot in California last year. Moving halfway across the country clearly won't be an option for everyone, but Iowa has a low cost of living and a good quality of life (more affordable housing, relatively low rates of crime and unemployment, short commutes, and decent public schools in many communities).

Of course, couples from California or anywhere else can still come to Iowa to get married.

Since the Iowa Supreme Court's Varnum v Brien ruling went into effect on April 27, hundreds of same-sex couples have been married here. More than half of Iowa's 99 counties have issued at least one marriage license to a same-sex couple. Despite an extensive petition drive to pressure county recorders, no county recorder has refused to issue a marriage license to a couple seeking one.

In my opinion, a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court ruling will not get anywhere. There are two ways to amend the Iowa Constitution; I went over the details in this post. The normal route requires an amendment to win approval by both houses of the Iowa legislature in two different legislative sessions.

Democrats hold a 32-18 advantage in the Iowa Senate, and it is almost inconceivable that the Republicans could take control in 2010. Senate Majority leader Mike Gronstal has repeatedly indicated, most recently on Iowa Public Television on May 15, that a marriage amendment will pass over his dead body:

Glover: The Supreme Court tossed you an issue during this past legislative session when it legalized gay marriage, it struck down a ban on same sex marriages. You didn't deal with that this year and you gave a very passionate floor speech in opposition to tinkering with that. Is there any chance that's going to come up again this session?

Gronstal: Not on my watch. As far as I'm concerned it's off the table and I'll do what I can ... I've got to tell you, as I read the constitution and as I read that decision, it was a long decision that had a lot of -- I'd encourage people to go read the decision -- but as I read that and as I look at our state constitution I'm hard pressed to find a place in our constitution that denies people rights. Our constitutions were built to guarantee people rights, not to deny them rights and I'm not going to go along with putting discrimination into the constitution.

Glover: Is there political vulnerability -- most polls that I've seen show that most people don't support same sex marriage, most people oppose gay marriages. Is there political vulnerability for you going there?

Gronstal: I don't measure things based on political vulnerability, I measure things on what my judgment is as to what is right and wrong and my judgment is it's wrong to put discrimination in the state constitution.

Glover: Put on your practical hat here. Are you running a risk here?

Gronstal: I don't care. It's not a matter of spending all my time looking over my shoulder trying to figure out what's going to happen in the next election, it's about doing what you think is right and I know it's not necessarily popular with everybody but I think people's attitudes are changing on this.

(Hat tip to the Pragmatic Lib blog for linking to that clip.)

The second way to amend the Iowa Constitution is for voters to call a Constitutional Convention. An initiative to do that appears on the Iowa ballot once a decade, and it will be there in November 2010. However, I hear no enthusiasm in Republican circles for pursuing this option. Republicans fear that if Democrats retain control of the legislature, they will be in the driver's seat when it comes to selecting delegates to a Constitutional Convention. There would be almost no limit to the kind of amendments such a body could consider. Gronstal has made clear that he would relish the opportunity to push for a Constitutional Convention to enact key Democratic goals as amendments that would go to the voters for approval.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that marriage equality is here to stay in Iowa, in my opinion. I wish our allies luck as you stand and fight to repeal Proposition 8. But those who have had it with California might want to seriously consider a move to the heartland. You'd be surprised how many transplants from the coasts enjoy life here.

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New York City Split On Marriage Equality

NY1 has released interesting poll results that show that marriage equality is only favored by a plurality of residents in New York City. (where I live)

The numbers are pretty surprising;

Do you favor or oppose legalizing same-sex marriage in New York?

Favor- 46%
Oppose- 42%
Not Sure- 11%

http://www.ny1.com/content/news_beats/po litics/99563/-i-ny1-exclusive-poll---i-- new-york-city-residents-split-over-gay-m arriage/Default.aspx

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