DES MOINES (AP) — Since Iowa’s legislative session started a month ago, conservative lawmakers have filed bills on school funding, taxes and abortion, but so far they haven’t taken up legislation on same-sex marriage.
Some advocates of marriage equality said that could signal more support for same-sex marriage, but Iowa lawmakers said that it’s more about priorities.
After repeatedly pushing for legislative action to put a constitutional amendment before voters that would overturn the 2009 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage, Republicans said they’ve simply changed their focus to other things.
Still, Donna Red Wing, executive director of One Iowa, the state’s largest gay advocacy group, and others sense a change.
“I was at an event with a bunch of legislators, and they were mentioning priorities, and they didn’t mention marriage. I think we are seeing a turning,” said Red Wing, who moved from Colorado to Iowa so she could marry her longtime partner, Sumitra. “I think the will is lessening.”
When the court unanimously ruled that Iowa’s ban on same-sex marriage violated the state constitution’s equal-protection clause, Iowa became the nation’s third state to legalize same-sex unions. Nine states and Washington, D.C., now have legalized gay marriage. Between 2009 and 2011, there were 4,600 same-sex marriages in Iowa, according to the State Department of Public Health.
Republicans won a majority in the House in 2010 and have tried to begin the multistep process of referring a proposed amendment to voters, but they have been stopped by Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal. The Council Bluffs Democrat has blocked a vote on such legislation, saying he would never allow debate on a measure that seeks to write discrimination into the Iowa Constitution.
Despite a high-profile effort to defeat him last November, Gronstal easily won re-election and Democrats held onto their two-seat majority in the Senate, while Republicans retained a majority in the House. But voters also retained Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins despite an effort by conservatives to defeat him because he had been a part of the 7-0 court decision on same-sex marriage.
Given Gronstal’s re-election and Democrats’ control of the Senate, Republican leaders said they’re focused on other matters, such as Iowa’s education and property tax system, and not same-sex marriage.
“We have already voted on that. I don’t know if a bill will be filed. It may or may not be,” said House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake. “The Senate hasn’t changed. The House hasn’t changed. We still support the issue, but the Senate isn’t going to take it up.”
Some Republicans, however, think their party might be slowly shifting its views on gay marriage.
Jeff Angelo, a former Republican senator who now lives in Ames, announced his support for same-sex marriage rights in 2011. Angelo said he thinks more legislators will change their minds on it.
Because same-sex marriage is state law, Angelo said some Republican legislators might welcome the opportunity to end the campaign for a constitutional amendment.
“I think there’s growing support in the Republican ranks for same-gender marriage, particularly in a state where it is the law of the state. There has been no disaster visited on the state because there has been same-sex marriage,” said Angelo, the founder of Iowa Republicans for Freedom, which supports gay marriage. “I think there are some that have friends, relatives that are gay that would rather just let this go.”
Angelo noted that support for the state’s same-sex marriage law appears to have grown since the 2009 ruling. A 2012 poll found that 56 percent of Iowans said they would oppose an amendment banning gay marriage. That was up slightly from a year earlier.
Still, plenty of Republicans take a different view.
GOP Chairman A.J. Spiker affirmed the party’s opposition to same-sex marriage during taping Friday of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program, calling the Democrats the state’s “gay-marriage party.”
Sen. Dennis Guth, R-Klemme, said he planned to introduce anti-same-sex-marriage legislation in the Senate but acknowledged it would probably not advance.
“I campaigned on this issue, and it’s an issue my constituents expect me to take action on,” Guth said. “I’m not holding my breath to see if it’s going to be passed.”
With little happening at the Legislature, groups opposing gay marriage have tried to figure out their approach. Chuck Hurley, vice president of the conservative advocacy group the Family Leader, which campaigned to try to oust Gronstal and Wiggins, acknowledged that the short term outlook is bleak for opponents of marriage equality in Iowa.
“The makeup of the Legislature is quite similar to two years ago. We don’t need a bunch of votes and all that stuff. We know where people are,” Hurley said. “We’re going to continue to do what we can. The question is ‘What can we do?’”
Hurley said the group is already talking to potential candidates to run for the Legislature in 2014 in an effort to get a more supportive General Assembly.
But Red Wing said she thinks more and more states will join Iowa, noting the voters’ approval of same-sex marriage in several states in the November election and efforts continuing in Rhode Island.
“Things are moving,” Red Wing said.