Ongoing debate in Iowa over role of government in social issues
As control of the Iowa Legislature hangs in the balance and some Republicans push to pass new restrictions on marriage and abortion, political leaders in the Hawkeye State disagree on how much influence faith should have on such topics.
Those emotionally-charged issues came up several times during the 2011 legislative session, after Republicans made huge gains in state government. The Republican-controlled Iowa House approved new restrictions on abortion and a resolution beginning a constitutional amendment process to ban same-sex marriage.
Bob Vander Plaats
In the Iowa Senate, controlled by Democrats by a slim 26-24 margin, Republicans attempted to force a vote on the definition of marriage through a little-used procedural motion. That was turned down by Democrats, but a pending special election in Senate District 18 could result in a split Senate and make it more difficult for Democrats to avoid a debate on that issue and others.
Bob Vander Plaats, a three-time gubernatorial candidate and head of the socially conservative advocacy group The Family Leader, said government’s role “is to promote what is good and righteous and to basically put a stop to or extinguish what is bad or wrong or evil.”
“I believe the government has a role in creating a culture of life,” Vander Plaats said. “Government has a role in the parameters of what constitutes a family, what constitutes a marriage. I believe government has a role in free enterprise and limited government and those types of things. I think government can play a very crucial role.”
State Rep. Kim Pearson (R-Pleasant Hill) takes a similar stance on the role of government in social issues. Pearson was one of a handful of House members that this year voted against restrictions on abortions because they didn’t go far enough.
“Either life is sacred or it’s not,” Pearson said. “It is my belief that because of the fact that life is sacred that we have the duty to protect life. Marriage is integral to the foundation of our country and there are those that would say you have nothing to do with it and just leave it up to the churches. But in my opinion it’s a legitimate role of government to help our support system which is the family.”
State Sen. Matt McCoy (D-Des Moines) said issues of faith and conscience should be based in an individual person’s life. And while government should set parameters on what’s acceptable, McCoy said, there needs to be a clear line between church and state.
“I think we try to live within those parameters as individuals,” said McCoy, who is openly gay. “But I think when the church takes a roll that says their beliefs should supersede all others I think people find that offensive. I think that’s when you’ve kind of got to draw the imaginary line that says this is your side of the fence, this is our side of the fence. Let’s try not to mix the two.”
Connie Ryan Terrell, head of the Iowa Interfaith Alliance, said government and the courts have a clear role in those issues. But those decisions should be based in Constitutional law, not God’s law.
“A state has a role in that and a role to play that is based in Constitutional law and current law and what is in the best interest of public policy on behalf of all people,” she said. “When elected officials make decisions or the judiciary makes decisions, it has to be based on the Constitution, not on religious belief.”
*(Editor’s note: *This is the fourth and final part of the “Faith in Politics” series. In part one we examined how Iowans hold different views on the role of faith within politics. In part two Iowans discuss how religion is sometimes exploited by those in politics. And in part three Iowan discussed how politicians can harm religion.)