Iowa House votes to put definition of marriage on ballot

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DES MOINES – House passage of House Joint Resolution 6 that calls for a referendum on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage didn’t change a thing for Sen. Majority Leader Mike Gronstal.

“I cannot cooperate in taking away the rights of a significant number of Iowans,” Gronstal, Council Bluffs Democrats, said Feb. 1 after the House voted 63-37 to approve the resolution for a referendum on a constitutional amendment recognizing only marriages between one man and one woman. It would prohibit same-sex marriage as well as civil unions and domestic partnerships.

The bipartisan vote in the House was “a big step backwards for the constitutional rights of all Iowans,” Gronstal said.

Danny Carroll, spokesman for the Family Leader, formerly known as the Iowa Family Policy Council, takes Gronstal at his word. But hopes it’s not the final word on the resolution.

“The House has spoken, and spoken rather convincingly, with a bipartisan vote in favor of letting the people vote,” Carroll said. “That should mean something to the Iowa Senate.”

The effort to undo the April 2009 Iowa Supreme Court decision in Varnum v. Brien that struck down the state ban on same-sex marriage now is in the hands of the Senate Democratic caucus, which has a 26-24 majority, Carroll said.

“They’re the ones who chose (Gronstal) for their leader,” he said.

Some Democratic senators have indicated they support the proposed constitutional amendment and have said they will support it if it comes to the floor. Among them are Senate President Jack Kibbie of Emmetsburg, Tom Hancock of Epworth, Dennis Black of Grinnell and Joe Seng of Davenport.

“If there is any way to prevail upon Sen. Gronstal it will have to come from within his caucus,” Carroll said.

Carroll doubts Iowans understand or appreciate Gronstal’s refusal to take up the issue.

“It is not really consistent with deliberative republican – small R – type of government,” he said. “The Senate and House are deliberative bodies. They represent the people of Iowa. Sen. Gronstal represents one Senate district.

“At the end of day, it’s not right for one person to hold it up,” Carroll said.

He will, however, Gronstal said, because it’s not about him.

“It’s about a significant portion of the citizens of this state that some people say shouldn’t have the same rights that everybody else does,” he said.

“It’s about a couple I know in Council Bluffs,” he said. “Two women. Married. Raising a kid. It’s about their family. They’re a loving family. Doing a good job raising their kid. Taxpayers.

“I’m not going to take their rights away,” Gronstal said. If one group’s rights can be put to popular vote, then any group’s rights can be put to a popular vote.

“That is fundamentally what the Constitution is there to prevent -- to make it exceedingly difficult for the majority to choose to discriminate against a minority,” he said.

Gronstal and other opponents of HJR 6 have nothing to fear from a debate unless they assume Iowans will adopt the proposed amendment, Carroll said. They may have good reason because in 30-some states voters have upheld traditional marriage when it’s been on the ballot, Carroll said.

“But it’s not a foregone conclusion,” Carroll said. “One would expect that if this goes to the ballot both sides would engage in a vigorous debate.

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