Monday, April 06, 2009

Gay Marriage, Donchaknow

Since the NCAA men's championship game is turning out to be as boring as last year's was exciting, I figured I'd dump a few thoughts on the recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling that gay couples must be allowed to marry in the Hawkeye State.

First, the decision was unanimous and, as Ian points out, pretty damn decisive. Meaning it's not being overturned anytime soon, and no wishy-washy civil unions are going to be instituted. It's either full marriage equality or gut the Constitution.

Aside: I wonder whether the unanimity and definitiveness of this decision means it'll be used as precedent for other state Supreme Courts that are faced with similar decisions...

Anyway, we all know an amendment battle is on the horizon - the question is how it's going to be fought. And this is where Iowa's conservatism actually works against conservatives. In contrast to states like California, where any schmuck can put together a petition and get an amendment on the ballot that year, Iowans have two options. First, the state legislature can take up the question of the amendment. If the amendment passes in two successive sessions of the legislature, it goes before the voters. Second, every ten years Iowans are asked if they want a constitutional convention - this convention can submit amendments to the people to be voted on the next year.

The point is that there'll be no Proposition 8-like electoral battle this year. The absolute worst-case scenario is that the convention ballot question passes - should that occur, a measure would be on the ballot in November 2011. Realistically, I don't expect this to occur. Furthermore, this article makes it clear that Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal is in favor of gay marriage with the zeal of the convert (Gronstad opposed it in '98, but has since seen the light). We'll assume that Gronstal has power similar to that enjoyed by Marc Basnight here in NC, and that he can bury this bill if he doesn't want it to go anywhere.

This means that Republicans will have to take over the Senate at least, and probably both houses, in order to get a question on a ballot. Gronstad's Democrats currently enjoy a 32-18 advantage in the Senate, though, and in this political climate it's tough to imagine a Republican sweep in 2010. So realistically, we're talking 2013 before the Republicans can even get a vote through the Senate on this. Which means another vote would have to take place in the 2015-16 session. Which means the earliest I expect a measure to be on the ballot is November 2016 - more than seven years from now.

This decision is pretty big. It'll be the first foray for marriage equality outside the Northeast. Recall also that the first state to consider gay marriage, Massachusetts, has a similar means of amending their Constitution - they need two consecutive constitutional conventions to give 25% approval to the amendment. The measure passed the first time but couldn't muster the measley 50 votes (out of 200) required to pass the second time around.

What this tells me is that if gay marriage is given time to "sink in," it ceases to become much of a concern. (In fact, a Republican co-sponsor of the proposed MA gay marriage ban admitted as much in this CBS News article.) We'll see if that's the case in Iowa. I think it will be.

Quote of the day: "The politics of it are I'm not going to put discrimination in the Iowa Constitution. That's a horrible idea. The people who are pushing the amendment are saying equal protection under the law -- except. I think that's unacceptable." - Gronstal, saying "You shall not pass" to the gay-marriage ban.

Dumbass quote of the day: "He [Gronstal] is denying 2.1 million Iowans of voting age of the right to vote on an issue of great importance to 550,000 schoolchildren." - Chuck Hurley, president of the "Iowa Family Policy Center," who apparently has some bizarre ideas of what schoolchildren find important.


Mike said...

I would like to meet the schoolchildren that care about gay marriage. Actually, no I wouldn't. "Won't someone PLEASE think of the children?"

Matthew B. Novak said...

I think your point about letting it "sink in" is well made. Personally, I think there's a distinction to be drawn between same-sex marriage and traditional marriage, and that it's a relevant distinction. But my zeal for the fight has never been particularly high, (for the opposition to same-sex marriage itself. I do have some zeal to fight against people who would label everyone opposed to same-sex marriage as homophobic and closed-minded.) and even what I have is on the wane. Essentially, even those who are opposed to same-sex marriage are often willing to accept it's legality.