Two Iowa Senate democrats say loyalty to Gronstal trumps support for marriage amendment

Posted by Jennifer Jacobs on

"A handful of Senate Democrats who would be the deciding votes on a marriage equality amendment said Tuesday they won't join minority Republicans to force a vote this year.

"Barring a change of heart, that means the effort to allow a public vote on a constitutional amendment to ban the freedom to marry is dead in the Iowa Legislature this session.

"Some Democrats personally believe that marriage is between one man and one woman. But they refuse to override their majority leader, who has vowed to block a vote.

"At least two Democratic senators said Tuesday that if a marriage constitutional amendment ever were to come to a vote of the full chamber, they'd likely vote 'yes' - enough for a majority. They are Tom Hancock of Epworth and Jack Kibbie of Emmetsburg, the Senate president.

"Both back marriage between one man and one woman. They see allowing Iowans to vote on marriage as casting an individual vote of conscience. But they won't usurp the authority of Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs.

"Republican senators vow to keep pursuing parliamentary maneuvers to force a vote.

"Senators of both parties agreed in interviews Tuesday that the sole authority to call such legislation for a vote lies with Gronstal, who said he won't budge on his refusal to do so.

"Republican senators said Tuesday their next step is to circulate a petition that would push the Senate version of a marriage resolution onto the calendar of bills eligible for a vote by the full Senate.

"Two of the Democratic senators who signed a similar petition last year, Hancock and Joe Seng of Davenport, said Tuesday they're holding the possibility open to signing it again this year — which could give the petition the 26 votes necessary for a majority in the 50-member Senate.

"Republicans would consider that a major symbolic victory, but even that would not force Gronstal to allow a vote.

"'I am considering signing it,' Seng said.

"Hancock said he's leaning against signing the petition, but remains uncertain.

"'Back home, the folks want me to support the opportunity to vote,' Hancock said.

"He would vote 'yes' on a marriage amendment if given the opportunity, he said. Seasoned Republican senators said they don't see any wiggle room that would force a Senate vote.

"Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, who pushed the petition last year and will try to get the signatures of 24 Republicans and at least a couple of Democrats on the petition this year, said the effort will likely ultimately fail.

"'But you keep stepping forward,' Johnson said. 'Because things could change.'

"Secretary of the Senate Mike Marshall, considered the go-to person on the chamber rules, said current rules give the majority leader the exclusive authority to decide which legislation to call for a vote.

"Senators can no longer make a motion from the floor to suspend the rules, which Sen. Kent Sorenson, R-Indianola, did last week. Under new rules crafted by majority Democrats, senators would have to file a resolution calling for suspending the rules.

"And the majority leader controls whether such resolutions come to a vote, Marshall said.

"Johnson, a Republican with 12 years of experience as a state legislator, said the rules say Senate Joint Resolution 8 must remain under committee consideration for 15 legislative days. After that - on Feb. 22 - Johnson hopes to file a petition with the 26 signatures necessary to make it eligible for a floor vote, even if it doesn't get committee approval.

"Last year, Johnson got 23 signatures - all 18 Republican senators, plus five Democrats: Seng, Hancock, Dennis Black of Grinnell, Keith Kreiman of Bloomfield, and Rich Olive of Story City.

"Olive and Kreiman lost re-election bids in November.

"Black said Tuesday he definitely won't sign one again this year. Under no circumstance would he aid Senate Republicans to force a vote, he said.

"Black believes strongly in one-man, one-woman marriage, but said he gained respect for the Iowa Supreme Court's 2009 ruling legalizing the freedom to marry after thoroughly reading the decision.

"'When you can get seven justices, several of whom personally oppose marriage for same-sex couples, to do the job they took an oath to do, they deserve applause vs. the hate and discontent,' Black said.

"During his re-election campaign last fall, Black made his support of the court ruling known to his constituents by making comments at public forums and in quotes published in newspapers.

... "The Register also checked Tuesday with other senators who struggle with the issue, either because of personal feelings or constituent demands.

... "Sen. Swati Dandekar, D-Marion, represents a district where Republican and independent voters outnumber Democratic voters.

"Even if she's vulnerable in the 2012 election, 'I'm going to side with my leadership [Gronstal] on this issue,' she said. 'At the end of the day, I have to do what I think is right, and I'm going to do what is right and let my district's citizens decide' whether to oust her from office.

"As a Catholic, Sen. Tom Rielly, D-Oskaloosa, believes marriage is 'one-man, one-woman, one time,' he said.

"'But I'm not going to use that as a test to deny someone their civil rights. I've read the decision a couple dozen times, and I just for the life of me don't understand how anybody can say, 'This couple over here, you can enter into a civil contract to get health insurance, tax status, pension benefits, survivor benefits, end-of-life care. But you over here, because you're gay, you can't do that.'

"'How is that not discriminatory?'"

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