In his first press conference since the
Iowa Supreme Court voided the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, Gov.
Chet Culver said last Wednesday that Iowa’s voters will have their voices
heard on the issue, even if a constitutional amendment doesn’t become
“[Opponents] can talk to their legislators about amending the
constitution,” Culver said. “They will have the option on the ballot in
2010 to call for a constitution convention. So the voters will have an
opportunity to weigh in on this.”
When the court’s ruling was made public Friday, Culver issued a
statement saying only that he would study the decision before making
any further statements. Tuesday, he ended his silence, saying he was “reluctant to support amending the Iowa Constitution to add a provision that our Supreme Court has said is unlawful and discriminatory.”
Opponents had hoped Culver, who had previously said he would go so far as to call a special session
to “protect marriage between a man and a woman,” would take a firm
stand against the ruling, bolstering their efforts to pass a
constitutional amendment overturning the court’s ruling.
After four days of consideration, Culver rejected that argument.
“We have to be very respectful of the Equal Protection Clause of the
Iowa Constitution,” Culver said. “This court in a unanimous decision
has stated that it is discriminatory to deny people rights given to
them in our constitution.”
Culver said he waited to make a decision in order to avoid a “knee-jerk reaction.”
“This decision took more than four months to come down from the
court,” he said. “I think it’s appropriate to take as much time as
necessary, in my case four days, to thoroughly read the decision. It’s
69 pages long. It involves a lot of complex legal arguments on both
sides. I also thought it was important for me to sit down with the
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller released a statment Friday supporting the court’s ruling.
Culver said the voters will ultimately decide the issue due to the
fact that the option to hold a constitutional convention is on 2010
“We have not had one since 1857,” he said. “So, we’ll see what the people of Iowa have to say about that.”
If a convention is held, it will be “much broader than this one issue.”
“Might be the opportunity to have a convention to reaffirm our
commitment to hardworking people; to work at that convention to ensure
we continue to fight for our teachers; to work at that convention to
protect seniors and their rights; to work at that convention to protect
veterans,” Culver said.
Opponents of same-sex marriage say they will continue to fight to
overturn last week’s Supreme Court ruling, but they admit the chances
of action this year are slim.
“It appears unlikely,” said Danny Carroll, a former Republican
legislator from Grinnell who serves as chairman of the Iowa Family
Policy Center Action Board. “The legislature can still take it up in
the 2010 session, but that may be difficult to accomplish as well.”
With Democratic legislative leaders coming out in support of the ruling, and Gov. Chet Culver saying he would be reluctant to amend the state’s constitution, same-sex marriage foes are left with few avenues for change in the short term.
State Reps. Dwayne Alons, a Hull Republican, and Dolores Mertz, an Ottosen Democrat, introduced a bill last month that would amend Iowa’s Constitution and define marriage as being between a man and a woman.
In order for the bill to be debated this late in the legislative
session, however, Democratic legislative leaders would have to
introduce it to the floor, something Senate Majority Leader Mike
Gronstal, a Council Bluffs Democrat, flatly rejected earlier this week.
A public push against the ruling has been slow going, Carroll said,
because a lot of people around the state had forgotten the issue was
even before the Supreme Court.
“It takes so long for the court to issue a decision; I mean [Polk County Judge Robert] Hansen made his ruling in August 2007,”
he said. “It’s been almost a year and a half. That’s a long time, so
the ruling caught a lot of people by surprise. They had forgotten it
was even there.”
Iowa’s social conservatives will be aided, however, by the National
Organization for Marriage, a group that last year helped in the passage
of California’s ballot initiative amending the state constitution to
eliminate same-sex couples’ right to marry. The organization is launching a $1.5 million ad campaign
in several states, including Iowa, hoping to energize opponents of
same-sex marriage by making the case that it will directly affect their
Several House Republicans have privately discussed using a
procedural move to bring an amendment to the floor without legislative
leadership’s approval. The move, called House Rule 60, allows any bill
to skip the committee process and go directly to a floor debate if a
majority of legislators support it. Former House Minority Leader Christopher Rants, a Sioux City Republican, attempted the same thing last year, falling two votes short in a much more narrowly divided House.
Ultimately, though Carroll said opponents would have to work to
change the legislature if they hope to change the constitution, and
with so much time before the 2010 elections, it is unclear if that will
“With the passage of time, things have a tendency to cool off,” he
said. “Whether or not the people of Iowa will see this as a priority
leading into November of 2010 I’m not sure.”