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Video: Faith-based march for marriage equality and independent judiciary

CEDAR RAPIDS — More than 100 people converged along 1st Avenue in front of Town & Country Center Tuesday evening to express their support for an independent judiciary and marriage rights for same-sex couples.

The march and demonstration, which was organized by Faith in Iowa, a relatively new faith-based organization in eastern Iowa, was accomplished by a coalition like-minded groups that included the local chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and local members of One Iowa, a statewide LGBT advocacy organization. They gathered at the local strip mall specifically because a conservative religious group was holding a meeting inside one of the eating establishments as part of its statewide tour.

“The Family Leader and its leader, Bob Vander Plaats, doesn’t speak for me and doesn’t speak for all Christians in Iowa,” said Rev. Martha Rogers, rector for Christ Episcopal Church in Cedar Rapids. “That’s why it is important that we are here — to show there is another viewpoint.

“The definition of faith that is being promulgated by Vander Plaats and these conservative organizations has dominated the Iowa landscape for too long. It’s time for some diversity.”

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/bvp_cr_capo_3002-300x270.jpgBob Vander Plaats, head of The Family Leader organization, did not face a completely friendly audience when he appeared in Cedar Rapids Tuesday evening. (Photo: Lynda Waddington/The Iowa Independent)

Following his third failed bid to win the GOP gubernatorial primary last year,Vander Plaats, bankrolled by several out-of-state anti-gay organizations, traveled the state in 2010 to advocate for the ouster of three Iowa Supreme Court justices who stood for retention on the November ballot. After the election, and the ouster of all three justices, Vander Plaats took employment as the head of The Family Leader, which serves as the political action arm of the Iowa Family Policy Center.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, Vander Plaats encouraged those in attendance to keep pressure on the Iowa Judicial Branch and to maintain the momentum which led to the removal of the justices. Clergymen and women who attended the meeting on behalf of Faith in Iowa sat quietly in the audience, but shook their heads against Vander Plaats’ message.

“He’s very slick. I’ll give him that,” Rogers said about Vander Plaats’ delivery after the event. “He kept interweaving religion, patriotism and politics; politics, patriotism and religion — and he was obviously very comfortable doing so.”

Vander Plaats repeated claims he’s made at other campaign stops that “government is an institution of God,” and quoted scripture he believed confirmed such claims.

Rogers, who wanted to ask a question after his prepared remarks, said that several times Vander Plaats locked eyes with her, but chose to take a question from another audience member.

“I think he saw my collar,” the pastor said, noting that female religious leaders aren’t necessarily common in conservative Christian denominations.

Roughly half of the 75 people who attended The Family Leader’s campaign stop were individuals who did not agree with the sentiments being expressed, and several did question Vander Plaats on if there should be a separation of church and state. In response, Vander Plaats used the “slippery slope” argument that same-sex marriage is an erosion of society that will lead to legalized incest and polygamy. As disagreements between audience members and Vander Plaats persisted throughout the question-and-answer period, the meeting was soon brought to an end.

“It was all just very scripted,” Rev. Tom Capo of People’s Church in Cedar Rapids said. “He came here with a list of things he wanted to say, and he really didn’t seem to be too interested in any discussion or differing opinions.”

Vander Plaats made a point in the meeting to say that he was “not collecting donations.” He did, however, encourage those in attendance to become “citizen ambassadors” or “church ambassadors” for The Family Leader. According to an organizational brochure distributed at the event, those titles are available to individuals, couples or churches that provide a minimum donation of $1,000.

In exchange for those fees, “citizen ambassadors” will be provided, according to the brochure, “special access to important news impacting families all across Iowa, discounts to events, direct access to timely legislative alerts from the Iowa Capitol, and direct representation of your Christian values at the Iowa Statehouse.”

“Church Ambassadors” will receive “special access to pertinent news, training and materials for church staff, five prospective mentor couples for a ‘Marriage Matters‘ mentoring program in the church, ‘Marriage Matters’ promotional videos and materials, complimentary access for the pastor and spouse to Family Leader events, access to a speaker from the Family Leader for one Sunday per year, and direct representation at the Iowa Statehouse.”

The brochure also notes that contributions to The Family Leader organization are not tax-deductible, “but give us the most flexibility in engaging in legislative and political activities.”

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