First District GOP tries to 'simplify' its marriage plank, then things get complicated

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So Republicans in Eastern Iowa’s 1st District adopted a platform over the weekend that made news. “Platform” and “news” rarely share the same sentence.

But in this case, delegates to the district convention in Cedar Rapids accepted one eye-catching plank related to a high-profile issue. “We support the removal of institution of marriage from government control,” the platform now says.

That’s a departure from current Iowa GOP orthodoxy, which prescribes that marriage shall only be between a man and a woman, and that the state constitution must be amended to ban same-sex marriages, which are legal here. The orthodoxy demands that government do more marriage-controlling, pronto.

As with most departures from orthodoxy, outrage followed. Conservative blogger Shane Vander Hart posted a report on his Facebook page that the traditional marriage plank had been “removed” on a 116-89 vote. Comments flowed from there.

“I begged people to stand up, I shouted stand up for morality! No one else other than the 89 stood. I shouted at the ones sitting down, and called them moral cowards. They threatened to remove me and called the sergeant of arms,” wrote Judd Saul, an activist from Cedar Falls.

“Earth to Judd ... Marriage equality will never be ‘overturned,’ wrote Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson, a Republican who backs equality. “In 20 years my kids will look back on this era like we do on the segregationist era. 1st district Republicans are just the canary in the coal mine for future platforms.”

So far, blame has been thrown at RINOs, Big Liberty, even Gov. Terry Branstad. Branstad is staying out of the dispute, which is so unlike him.

I was not at the convention. And piecing together what happened is like following a Civil War battle from telegraphic dispatches. The fog of war, etc. So I’m relying mostly on Tim Busch, who chairs the district’s platform committee and was in the thick of it.

Busch has led an effort to simplify the GOP platform, boiling down a big pot of highly prescriptive, detailed planks into a lean statement of principles. The no “government control” of marriage language came from that process.

“I’m surprised they didn’t get hung up on the other 200 things that got removed,” Busch said.

After some twists and turns, including the marriage plank at issue being inadvertently left off the platform presented to the convention, delegates accepted it, and defeated multiple efforts to change it. Eyewitness David Chung, a member of the Republican State Central Committee, has a good twists and turns summary at his blog.

“From what I’ve heard from the people who were there, there are people confused about the result,” said Renee Schulte, a former state lawmaker who chaired the convention but didn’t preside over the platform debate.

So the GOP is liberalizing its thinking on marriage?

“I completely disagree,” Busch said, insisting he and most delegates haven’t changed their minds on marriage. “That doesn’t mean the government has to be in the middle of it.”

“We tried to simplify it. It’s simpler. Does that mean anybody changed their beliefs? I’d have to say no,” Busch said.

So no sea change. But this boat-rocking is not insignificant. Perhaps what Oleson calls a “canary” is the first of a flock. GOP opposition to same-sex marriages isn’t going to melt overnight. But that glacier has cracks.

As for getting government out of marriage, if Republicans think turning back the clock on same-sex marriage is tough, try untangling marriage from the tax code. Then there’s inheritance, divorce, child custody and countless other issues that bind marriage to compelling state interests.

I say “We believe strongly in equal protection of the laws” would have been a much better plank. It’s catchy, and catching on. And the 1st District GOP would be thinking more like Lincoln.

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