Democratic win preserves marriage rights in Iowa

Author: Chris Johnson
Publication: Washington Blade
Publication Date: November 8th, 2011

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A Democratic candidate won a special election on Tuesday for a seat in the Iowa State Senate — a victory that will preserve marriage rights in the state.

Liz Mathis, a former TV news anchor, won her bid to represent Iowa’s 18th District in the State Senate against Republican Cindy Golding, a businessperson. According to the Iowa Independent, Mathis claimed the seat by taking 55.8 percent of the vote compared to 43.5 percent won by Golding.

“I pledge to the voters of this district: I will go to the Capitol and fight for you every day. I will be your voice in the state Senate,” Mathis said after her win Tuesday night, according to the Des Moines Register.

Democrats held a narrow 25-24 majority in the State Senate. A Republican win would have resulted in a tie in the leadership vote and thrown control of the chamber into question.

The race was of interest to LGBT advocates because Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D) has said a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage — instituted in Iowa by court order in 2009 — won’t come up as long he’s in control of the chamber. With him out of power, the Senate could have voted on a measure that the Republican-controlled House approved in February banning both same-sex marriage and marriage-like unions.

Golding said she would have voted in favor of the measure, which would have brought marriage rights for gay couples up to a vote before the electorate, while Mathis said she supports the court decision instituting marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Troy Price, executive director of One Iowa, called Mathis’ win “a great victory for Iowans” in a statement.

“Voters in this district clearly rejected the mean-spirited and misleading attacks of our opposition that we saw right up until the polls closed on Election Day,” Price said. “Instead, voters elected the candidate they felt would best move our state forward.”

On the day of the election, a robocall was sent to voters saying Mathis “endorses homosexual marriage.” The call continued, “Homosexual marriage obviously involves homosexual sex. So, before you support Liz Mathis, call her … and ask her which homosexual sex acts she endorses.” Golding said her campaign had nothing to do with the robocalls.

Price continued that although the election is over, the “battle is far from over” to preserve marriage rights in the Hawkeye State.

“Now, the focus turns to the coming legislative session where we fully expect the opponents of equality to redouble their efforts to take away the rights of loving, committed gay and lesbian couples,” Price said. “One Iowa will be there to stand up for marriage equality at every turn, and we are excited to work with the fair-minded Senate majority to ensure that freedom and equality remains in the heart of the heartland.”

In the wake of the election, national LGBT groups praised Mathis’ win and said her victory means voters were able to reject anti-gay attacks and elect a fair-minded candidate.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, called the election of the Democratic candidate “a tremendous victory for the state of Iowa.”

“The voters rebuffed the anti-gay attacks that sought to make undoing the freedom to marry a critical factor in the race, and instead elected a candidate who supports the freedom to marry for all Iowa families,” Wolfson said.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, also praised the win in a statement.

“The marriage issue is settled, voters clearly care about issues directly affecting their everyday lives,” Solmonese said. “Today’s election serves as a message that it’s time to get on with the people’s business.”

Both anti-gay and pro-LGBT national groups had a role in producing the election results. On the anti-gay side, the National Organization for Marriage launched an independent expenditure campaign in favor of Golding and distributed mailers highlighting both candidates’ positions on marriage. Golding also accepted an endorsement from the anti-gay Family Research Council.

According to a statement, HRC endorsed Mathis and placed five full-time field organizers in the district during the final weeks of the campaign. These organizers performed campaign duties for the state Democratic Party and mobilized residents in the district to volunteer and vote in the special election.