Democratic leader in Iowa Senate vows he’ll block vote on the freedom to marry

Posted by Jennifer Jacobs and Jason Clayworth on

"Despite sweeping GOP gains in Iowa government Tuesday, one Democratic senator will thwart efforts to allow Iowans a vote on the freedom to marry.

"Republicans will occupy the governor's office and will control the Iowa House next year, and there's a chance that final results could give Republicans a 25-25 deadlock in the Iowa Senate.

"But Senate Democrats will maintain at least equal power — which will give Majority Leader Mike Gronstal authority to prevent a vote on a marriage amendment to the state constitution.

"'There's no mechanism whereby senators, even a majority of senators, can override the majority leader,' according to Secretary of the Senate Mike Marshall, a staffer who ensures rules are followed.

"Senate Republicans intend to try various maneuvers to force a vote, even though they don't believe such efforts will succeed. Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley, R-Chariton, hopes public pressure might eventually compel Gronstal to allow a vote, but Gronstal said Wednesday that will never happen.

... "Gronstal believes the right thing means protecting the civil rights of gays and lesbians. He reaffirmed Wednesday that he won't bow to pressure, no matter how nasty it gets.

"'The easy political thing for me to do years ago would have been to say, 'Oh, let's let this thing go. It's just too political and too messy,' ' Gronstal said. 'What's ugly is giving up what you believe in, that everybody has the same rights. Giving up on that? That's ugly.'

... "An April 2009 decision by the Iowa Supreme Court legalized marriages of same-sex couples in Iowa. An Iowa Poll taken in September 2009 showed that Iowans were almost evenly divided about whether, if given the opportunity, they would vote for or against a constitutional amendment to end marriage equality. The overwhelming majority of Iowans — 92 percent — also said marriages of same-sex couples had brought no real change to their lives.

... "Elsewhere in the country, freedom to marry supporters scored victories Tuesday. For example, New York Democrat Andrew Cuomo, who pledged to pass a marriage equality bill, won the governor's job in an overwhelming victory. In Rhode Island, David Cicilline, the gay mayor of Providence, won his congressional bid.

"'What we saw in Iowa was not a backlash, but an attack by a well-funded out-of-state political group,' said Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, a group working to secure marriage equality legislation in Maryland, Minnesota, New York and Rhode Island.

... "The loss of a Democratic majority in the Iowa House intensifies the need for people to speak up, said Carolyn Jenison, executive director of One Iowa, the state's largest civil rights group for gays and lesbians.

"'People need to realize that if this is something important to them, then they need to say that and they need to tell the people that represent them,' Jenison said. 'It is important to tell their stories so our elected officials realize we don't need to take these rights from people.'

"Gronstal said he hopes the Senate doesn't waste time on parliamentary maneuvers or partisan games connected to the freedom to marry. 'We're going to focus on creating jobs and moving Iowa's economy forward,' he said. 'The election is over. Iowans have spoken. Iowans are tired of the elections. Our job now is to find common ground.'"

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