The vote count is close on the question of gay marriage in the Iowa Legislature, but the personal feelings are overwhelming, according to a Des Moines Register survey published Sunday. Only six legislators -- three Senators, three Representatives, all Democrats from urban districts, answered no when asked "Do you believe marriage should be only between a man and a woman?" And it's that idea, as much as the policy stance on a proposed constitutional amendment, that's got some in Iowa's LGBT community upset.
The issue has heated up again in the wake of last year's Polk County court ruling that Iowa's law banning same-sex marriages is unconstitutional. That ruling was stayed on appeal, but not before one male couple managed to get a valid license and hold a wedding ceremony. Gay marriage opponents now want to enshrine their views in the state Constitution, joining 25 other states.
The question won't be on this fall's ballot, as it would have to pass two consecutive sessions. But if it comes to a roll call, those votes are likely to be prominently featured in GOP campaign ads. Democrats must trade that fear against the money and volunteer time LGBT activists offer to campaigns.
"Shame on me for investing my time, money, and efforts supporting candidates that believe I'm not fully equal to them," said Democratic activist Janelle Rettig of Iowa City, citing Johnson County legislators who won't commit to the principle of full equality. Rettig and her partner have a valid marriage license from Canada. "I guess being good neighbors, citizens and taxpayers isn't enough."
Long before gay marriage was a front page issue, Iowa Democrats were in the forefront in support. They placed marriage equality in the state party's 1994 platform. But the day after that platform was approved, gubernatorial nominee Bonnie Campbell formally renounced it, specifying the gay marriage issue.
Legislators who say no when asked "Should marriage be only between a man and a woman?"
Senators: Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City; Michael Connolly, D-Dubuque; Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines
Representatives: Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines; Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City; Dick Taylor, D-Cedar Rapids
Another seven Senators and 12 Representatives -- again, all urban Democrats -- either said they were "undecided" as to whether marriage is only between a man and a woman, or did not answer.
As it stands now, the vote on HJR 8 or SJR 2001 breaks exactly 50-50 on the House side, with four Democrats crossing party lines to support the amendment and one Republican opposed.
House Democrats: Yes
Geri Huser, D-Des Moines
Dolores Mertz, D-Ottosen
Brian Quirk, D-New Hampton
Kurt Swaim, D-Bloomfield
House Republican, No
Chuck Gipp, R-Decorah
That dead heat would kill action for the year, but one switch to yes would put the Senate in play. On that side of the Rotunda, the issue is more up in the air, with 12 Democrats and one Republican either undecided or not responding. Amendment opponents would need most of these votes to block Senate action, as the Senators who have committed are split 21 in favor to 16 opposed.