Iowa governor Tom Vilsack used his inaugural address Friday to propose extending civil rights protections to gays and lesbians, reports the Des Moines Register. Linking two seemingly disparate issues, Vilsack said that if GOP lawmakers want faith-based groups to get more involved in delivering social services, they should consider extending protections to gays and lesbians in return.
"Perhaps we can find a middle ground to do both," he told a crowd of about 2,000 at Drake University's Knapp Center in Des Moines, where he was sworn in to a second term in office.
Gay rights has been a point of contention between the Democratic governor and the Republican-controlled legislature. In 1999, Vilsack issued an executive order forbidding discrimination against gays, lesbians, and transsexuals in state government employment.
Iowa senate majority leader Stewart Iverson of Dows, one of 23 Republican legislators who successfully took Vilsack to court in 2000 to overturn that executive order, did not seem inclined Friday to take Vilsack up on the offer.
"I've never been real thrilled about giving special rights to special people," Iverson said.
In an interview after Friday's speech, Vilsack said his effort to reach an accommodation with social conservatives is another opportunity for Iowa to break down barriers. He said he raised the issue in his inaugural speech in hopes of "planting the seed that gives this legislative session an opportunity for us to break those barriers down, to develop relationships and friendships that will allow us to do the hard work that needs to be done."
State senator Jack Hatch, a Des Moines Democrat, praised the governor for raising the gay rights issue. "He handed the legislature an opportunity, a compromise," Hatch said.