A constitutional ban on gay marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships passed the Iowa House Tuesday afternoon 62-37. Democratic Reps. Dan Muhlbauer, Brian Quirk and Kurt Swaim joined 59 Republicans in support of the measure. Thirty-seven Democrats voted “no,” and one Republican was absent.
The legislation, House Joint Resolution 6, was the subject of nearly three hours of debate with only two lawmakers speaking up in support. The rest, all Democrats, denounced the bill as nothing more than writing prejudice and discrimination into the constitution.
“Here’s the funny things about rights — they’re not supposed to be voted on,” said state Rep. Bruce Hunter (D-Des Moines).
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Des Moines) worried about how history will judge Iowa lawmakers who vote in support of revoking marriage rights for same-sex couples.
“Many years from now we’ll look back on this debate and we’ll regret it,” he said.
After discussing his belief that marriage is about “responsible procreation,” state Rep. Rich Anderson (R-Clarinda) asked what could come next if the 2009 Iowa Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage is allowed to stand. He concluded that it would lead to legalized polygamy and incest.
“If we remove the gender requirement for marriage, there is no rational basis to define the number,” he said. “So we open up the possibility of the constitutional recognition of polygamous relationships. That’s a slippery slope. And I don’t know where the logic is to draw the line. We wouldn’t recognize incestuous relationships between two consenting adult brothers and sisters. That raises up within us disgust, and we can’t accept that. We draw lines. We define marriage.”
Some of the most impassioned testimony came from state Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell (D-Ames), who argued that Iowa has long been ahead of the rest of the nation in recognizing the rights of minorities.
“Iowa is a special place. We have been ahead of the nation many times when it comes to civil rights. Here we are again; we are ahead of much of the nation. I am proud of the role we play to lead our nation in civil rights again,” she said.
“In the 1967 case, Loving v. Virginia not only ended the ban on interracial marriage but declared that marriage is one of the basic civil rights,” Wessel-Kroeschell continued. “In a representative democracy, we must not only vote the will of our constituents, but we must also do our homework, and sometimes we need to ignore the polls and do the right thing. This is one of those cases. We need to be on the right side of history, vote for equality and justice for all and vote no on HJR 6.”
Two outspoken opponents of marriage equity — Republcian state Reps. Glen Massie of Des Moines and Rep. Kim Pearson of Pleasant Hill — took the highly unusual step of refusing to answer questions in defense of the constitutional amendment when requested by Democratic state Rep. Nathan Willems of Lisbon. Willems eventually got state Rep. Erik Helland (R-Johnston) to discuss whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Iowa Constitution applies to everyone except for gay couples, with Hellend concluding that there is a fundamental disagreement on the issue.
Carolyn Jenison, executive director of the LGBT-rights group One Iowa, said the amendment “devalues families and divides Iowans.”
“The Constitution is meant to protect the freedoms and liberties of all Iowans,” she said after the bill passed. “It is inappropriate to use the political process to single out and deny a group of Iowans of their constitutional protections.”
In order to become law, the amendment must now pass in the Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate, where Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, a Council Bluffs Democrat, has vowed to block it. If it succeeds there, it must be passed by both the House and Senate again in 2013 before it can be placed on the ballot.