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Marriage Equality

NOM: Mission Overturn Iowa Marriage

NOM: Mission Overturn Iowa Marriage


Emboldened by Iowa voters' removal of three state supreme court justices from the bench this week, the National Organization for Marriage is pushing forward on a constitutional amendment to overturn marriage equality in the state, despite strong opposition from Democratic leaders and a legislative process that would take years before such a measure could end up on the ballot.

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, said his group will remain an active lobby in the state, where Republicans took control of the house and made gains in the senate. Terry Branstad, the state's incoming Republican governor, has said that voters should have the right to decide whether to limit marriage to heterosexual couples.

NOM is among several out-of-state groups that spent more than $1 million combined on the Iowa for Freedom campaign to oust Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and justices David Baker and Michael Streit.

"There's going to be a major push by activating folks to contact their legislators, and you're going to see a massive grassroots campaign to encourage legislators to listen to the people," Brown told The Advocate on Thursday. "The changes in Iowa were pretty dramatic. In the house, we're going to be successful, as well as in the senate. One of the primary effects of this victory is that -- I won't say it's made it easy, but it's made it very clear that a constitutional amendment should be before Iowa voters."

Brown wouldn't specify whether NOM's long-term involvement in the state would include another judicial retention vote in 2012 -- this time for Justice David S. Wiggins, one of seven state supreme court justices who in 2009 voted unanimously that denying marriage rights to same-sex couples is unconstitutional. He also declined to say whether NOM would favor an amendment that both overturns the supreme court's decision and bans civil unions or domestic partnerships.

"We're focusing only on the marriage issue," Brown said, though he asserted that "it's no secret that advocates for same-sex marriage use civil unions to force same-sex marriage on states."

NOM, which spent more than $600,000 in the Iowa campaign, is also focusing on two other states that saw big Republican gains and have not yet put marriage up for a popular vote: Minnesota, which has a statutory ban on gay marriage, and New Hampshire, where a pro-marriage equality law went into effect in January. NOM has been criticized by gay rights groups like Californians Against Hate and the Human Rights Campaign for a lack of donor transparency in their state battles, prompting investigations by state ethics commissions.

"NOM has boldly and consistently refused to disclose its donors, so much so that they challenged campaign disclosure laws in several states," said Fred Sainz, HRC's vice-president of communications. "You don't fight laws that everyone else has to follow unless you're hiding something."

For a constitutional amendment to be passed in Iowa, both the state house and senate have to approve the measure by a simple majority in two consecutive general assemblies, followed by a simple majority of voters.

But Democratic state senate majority leader Mike Gronstal remains steadfast in blocking such a vote. Though Republicans may even the 50-seat senate makeup to a 25-25 split, Gronstal said he would still have the power to render the issue a stalemate.

"It's an anachronism," Gronstal said of the backlash against marriage equality in his state. "I'm not going to insert discrimination into the constitution of Iowa. It's as simple as that. My father taught me, and his father taught him, that everyone's equal before the law."

Gronstal successfully fought attempts for a senate vote this year and argued that Tuesday's judicial retention vote wasn't indicative of the people's dissatisfaction with marriage rights for same-sex couples.

"Judges are always going to have 20% to 30% of voters against them regardless," Gronstal said. "Maybe a third of Iowans voted against them because of the [marriage] issue, and a quarter voted against them because they always vote against judges. I'm not sure it's the clear mandate that some are trying to sell it as."

Gronstal was joined by Iowa U.S. senator Tom Harkin, who condemned the votes as harmful to an independent judiciary. "Iowa's justices shouldn't have to look over their shoulders when applying the law," Harkin said in a statement to The Advocate."This anti-retention effort, which was largely funded by out-of-state interest groups, flies in the face of our historical commitment to protecting Iowa's legal system from the whims of politics. Substituting public opinion for legal opinion will not give Iowans the fair, impartial judicial system they have come to expect."

But the judicial ousting has also energized marriage equality-minded citizens who are outraged by the specter of another Proposition 8 scenario, where fundamental rights are revoked by a simple majority vote, said One Iowa executive director Carolyn Jenison.

"We have heard from people from across the state and the country who realize the impact this has," said Jenison, whose organization is also extensively lobbying state legislators against a constitutional amendment. "We've always been thoughtful and fair-minded in this state. This vote does not reflect Iowa values. And it's going to leave a black mark on our history."
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