Iowa Public Television


Same-Sex Marriage in Iowa

posted on February 12, 2010

Defining marriage ... high stakes politics.  With November elections looming, Iowa legislators are pondering voter reaction to their decisions on defining marriage.  We’re getting insight on this divisive social issue from Iowa Family Policy Center Board Chair Danny Carroll and One Iowa Campaign Manager Brad Clark on this edition of Iowa Press.

Borg: Iowa legislators this past week, on a mostly party-line vote, decided not to start moving a marriage defining constitutional amendment toward a statewide vote. The majority democrats rejecting the republican backed procedural efforts to keep a constitutional amendment resolution alive during the current session. The measure for amending Iowa’s constitution by defining marriage as only between a man and woman probably is dead for this legislative session, but supporters are warning that politicians opposing a statewide vote on such an amendment will pay a price in November’s elections. Well, we invited two leaders of opposing organizations on the gay marriage issue. Former state representative DannyCarroll now chairs the Iowa family policy center. And Brad Clark manages One Iowa, that’s one of the state's largest gay and lesbian advocacy groups. Gentlemen, nice to have you here at Iowa Press. Welcome.

Clark: Thank you.

Carroll: Thank you.

Borg: And across the Iowa Press table, Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover, and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.

Glover: Mr.Carroll, let's start with you. As Dean mentioned in his introduction, the legislature this week decided not to advance a proposal that would begin the process of calling for a statewide election on gay marriage. What’s next?

Carroll: Well, it's hard to say, Mike. There’s still a lot of the legislative session left. Certainly we're dealing with a shortened session, but legislators can still suspend the rules to consider bills that may not survive --

Glover: Do you have a realistic hope that could happen?

Carroll: It's a 50-50 shot. Leadership bills can be filed. But as a practical matter, the vote has probably been taken.

Glover: Mr. Clark, the same question to you. This legislature is probably not going to begin the process of advancing a constitutional amendment on gay marriage. Have you won?

Clark: I don't think that -- I don't think the battle is anywhere close to over yet. You know, I think democratic leadership has been clear from the very start of this session that their focus will be on creating jobs and balancing the state budget, and I think that that's the direction they're heading.

Glover: Mr.Carroll, voters this fall will have a choice about a constitutional convention. Every ten years there's a question on the ballot, do you want to have a convention to look at the state's constitution. Will you advocate for that?

Carroll: No. I think the constitutional convention is really a distraction. It’s a diversion. If you look at the constitution, what it says about the constitutional convention, the legislature names the delegates. The legislature decides how the vote is held, when the vote is held. I don't think that is a useful option, and it's not one that we are advocating or supporting.

Glover: And, Mr. Clark, one more question to you about the political fallout of all this. Some people up at the legislature think they've taken a tough vote on this. What’s the political fallout of this debate?

Clark: I don't -- I don't see much political fallout from a vote to block a divisive constitutional amendment from going forward. You know, what we saw in the Des Moines Register this week that texting is more important than taking a vote on this issue. I think voters are very concentrated on making sure our elected officials are doing the job they said they were going to do.

Henderson: One of the issues that's on the ballot in November is called a retention election, whereby some of the judges on the Iowa Supreme Court will have their names put forward before voters and voters get to decide whether to retain them. Does your group, Mr.Carroll, intend to actively engage in that campaign?

Carroll: No, we are not actively engaged in that campaign. And that comes as a surprise to some people. I was speaking to some folks last night who were under the impression that Iowa judges were elected and I reminded them or pointed out to them that, no, particularly in the case of the Supreme Court justice, they're appointed and they're on the ballot -- I forget what that term of years is, but they're on the ballot as to whether or not they should be retained in office. And you're exactly right, there are three Supreme Court justices, I believe, that will be on the ballot this fall. The question being for the voters shall they be retained.  Iowa family policy action is not engaged in any kind of effort to do that.

Glover: why?

Carroll: But the judges are -- their action and their vote is a matter of public record.

Henderson: Back to Mike's question. Why? There was a judge in the Sioux City area who granted a divorce to a couple that had a civil union from another state, and there was an active campaign to not retain that judge a few years ago. That campaign failed. Is that why you're not engaging in this?

Carroll: No. Our resources and efforts are focused on letting the people of Iowa vote. That is the one issue that has been completely ignored in this entire discussion. We have heard from legislators. We have heard from governors. We have heard from judges. We have heard from the news media. Who has not been heard? The people of Iowa have not had a chance to vote. There has been no public discussion, no debates, no hearings. It’s all been decided by unelected people behind closed doors. Our focus is on helping the people of Iowa have an opportunity to vote on this issue.

Borg: Those who have asked, though, in polls have gotten the result that, well, we really don't care that much about it, there are other things that are more important to us.

Carroll: Yeah, and that poll has been mentioned. Brad mentioned the poll. But this is a pretty important subject. It’s important enough that we're dedicating an entire program of Iowa Press to covering it. It’s a big deal. And while -- you know, why polls show -- I don't know. That’s for the people who took the poll to decide.

Borg: Kay?

Henderson: Mr. Clark, there are a few republican candidates for governor who have gone around making a case to voters that they should not retain those three judges that we've been talking about on this retention election. Will your group enter this fray and support those judges?

Clark: I think Danny and I actually agree on a couple of these issues. You know, the constitutional conventions is something that we are not supporting. You know, we think that -- that opening up the constitution for special interests and lobbyists is not something that we're interested in doing. I think judicial retention -- you know, our system is very clean.  Iowa has a very strong commitment to having a clean judicial system, and I think changing that system would be wrong.

Henderson: Well, speaking of changing that system -- and I’ll ask Mr.Carroll this question in a moment, but there are some legislators who are advancing the idea of having judges on the Iowa Supreme Court elected. Is that something your group would support?

Clark: Absolutely not. You know, we've had a commitment to a retention -- retention program for our judiciary, and I think that that system has worked very well.

Henderson: Mr.Carroll, do you support the effort among some in the legislature to start having a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment that would allow Iowans to elect the members of the Iowa Supreme Court?

Carroll: I don't know, Kay. I haven't really thought a lot about that. I’d have to -- I know there's thoughts both ways. In some states judges are elected. What the people of Iowa I think are interested in is where do judges stand. The thing that I hear most often when I’m on the campaign trail is voters go to the ballot box and they see all these judges -- not just Supreme Court judges. There are others on there. They don't know what to do. They try to find out what does a judge believe, what's their history, and so on. And our organization has actually sent questionnaires to judges to try to help informing, and there's very little participation on the part of judges in that process.

Borg: Mr.Carroll, Mike Glover opened this program asking you what's next. I’d like to have you look a little bit further down the road into the gubernatorial race. You’ve been quite strong in endorsing Bob Vander Plaats for governor. What -- if he doesn't get the nomination, what are you going to be advising members of the Iowa family policy center about the other republican candidate who did get the nomination?

Carroll: Well, we'll have to see who -- who that is.

Borg: Does it matter?

Carroll: As you know, on the republican side there are --

Borg: Does it matter?

Carroll: Yes, we're on record of saying that we will not support Terry Branstad if he is the nominee. And there are two others, as you know, Rod Roberts and Christopher Rants. So we'll have to see, first of all, who wins that nomination, and we'll see what happens between now and then.

Glover: Let's assume Terry Branstad gets the nomination. What role will the family policy center play in that campaign? Will you sit it out? Will you try to convince Bob Vander Plaats to run as a third-party candidate? What will you do?

Carroll: I don't see -- I don't see anything to be gained by pursuing a third-party candidate, but we'll probably sit it out. If we can't -- if we can't advocate for one or the other, then what choice is there?

Glover: And if your wing of the Republican Party sits it out, that will have a practical impact probably of re-electing Chet Culver. Are you comfortable with that?

Carroll: That's for the voters to decide. But we have certain standards that we're expecting candidates to abide by. If they don't meet those standards, then how can we advocate for them regardless? We’re no longer interested, mike in this business of the lesser of two evils. That’s just -- that's -- that doesn't get us anywhere.

Borg: Be specific. Where does Terry Branstad fall short?

Carroll: Well, there have been -- there have been a couple of things that have caused us some concern. Not too long ago my wife actually received a phone call at home. It was a recorded phone call from Lieutenant Governor Joy Corning encouraging her -- us, the household -- you know how robo calls work -- to support homosexual behavior. That’s a former lieutenant governor of Terry Branstad. Folks, things changed on April 3. That was a big deal. And from now on we will mark time based on what happened on April 3. And Terry Branstad did not -- did not do anything to distance himself from the position that Joy Corning took. That’s an example. And not only that, she went on to participate in a fund-raiser for One Iowa. How can -- how can we advocate for marriage in Iowa and at the same time support any candidate who has that kind of affiliation.

Glover: Mr. Clark, are you enjoying this?

Clark: I am. I too am a little confused about, you know, this is another area that I think we agree is -- a little confused on former Governor Branstad's stance on this issue. You know, I think at one point he talks about rights and protections for gay couples and their kids in terms of adoption. At another point he says this is the destruction of society as we know it. You know, we do have the support of his former lieutenant governor. He appointed a couple of the justices on the Supreme Court so, you know, I think clarity on this issue would be beneficial.

Glover: And we drag Mr.Carroll over the coals because of his gubernatorial candidates and their various positions. Let’s go to you. You have a sitting democratic governor who has said he's not going to do anything to tamper with the Supreme Court’s decision. What are you going to do to help him get re-elected? He’s on your side now.

Clark: You know, I think we're encouraging all of our supporters to go out there and work for fair-minded candidates, and Governor Culver is among those. He’s been very clear in that he sees varnum as a done issue and thinks that discrimination in the constitution shouldn't be in there.

Glover: So you'll be an active player in his campaign. And how will that take place? Will you raise money for him? Will you try to organize your supporters? Physically how will that involvement take place?

Clark: Our message to our supporters right now is to go out there and door knock and phone bank and do all the things necessary to elect fair-minded candidates, and that's what we plan to do.

Glover: And, Mr.Carroll, in the republican primary you made it clear what your position is. What will your organization do? Do you plan to raise money for Bob Vander Plaats? Do you plan to put soldiers in the field for Bob Vander Plaats? How are you going to advocate for his campaign?

Carroll: The family PAC, Iowa family PAC -- and it was our PAC that endorsed Bob Vander Plaats. And you bet we will do whatever we can to help him get elected.

Glover: And you're distancing yourself from the Republican Party. I recall when you had an event at the statehouse, you talked about the republican machine. You were once a loyal republican. What happened?

Carroll: I told you, Mike, on April 3 things changed. The rules have changed.

Borg: And April 3, just be specific for --

Carroll: April 3, 2009, when the Supreme Court issued an opinion that has now somehow been spun into public policy in law even though that court has no authority to pass law. Only the legislature does. And we're looking for people who will stand up and say enough of judicial activism. If we're going to pass a law and it's going to be public policy in this state, it will be done by the legislature, not the courts, not the governor. It will be done under open scrutiny of debate that happens in the committee process. Were you ever invited into any committee meetings of the Supreme Court before they decided on this public policy? No, you weren't invited in --

Borg: But, Mr.Carroll, the court in that decision --

Carroll: I want to finish. You asked me about republican. Yes, I’ve been a republican. I am a republican now. That platform most closely aligns with my personal beliefs. But it's more than being a republican, and that's what you're seeing across this state and this country. People are tired of business as usual, and we're not going to put up with judicial activism and courts passing law and pretending that that is somehow the way it ought to be. It should not be that way.

Borg: But that's my question. The court wasn't passing a lot. It was interpreting the law as it relates to the constitution, which is the bedrock. And they said it's forbidden by the constitution.

Carroll: They issued an opinion.

Borg: Yes.

Glover: Mr. Clark --

Carroll: And they took one step further and said now that we've issued our opinion, here's what we think public policy should be. Where did they get that authority to do that?

Glover: Mr. Clark, I’d like you to deal with the politics of this. Whenever the issue of gay marriage has gone before voters anywhere in the country, it's lost. Do you think that would be the case right now in Iowa? If the issue of gay marriage were submitted to the voters, would it win or lose?

Clark: That's a hard question to answer. I mean we can go on polls that have been done. What we saw in the last Des Moines Register poll was Iowans are evenly split on this issue. And I think that as we have more and more conversations, as couples are getting married and they see that these families are just like everyone else -- they are doing the hard work of putting food on the table, keeping their jobs. And in addition they've been trying to protect their families for the last many decades, and finally they have that opportunity.

Glover: And I’d like to ask you about your tactic. If, as we have suggested, this legislature does not adopt a resolution calling for a vote on a constitutional amendment, the earliest such a vote could be held would be 2016, assuming the legislature elected this year and the legislature elected in the following election approves.  Is that what you're doing, playing for time, pushing that potential election down the road?

Clark: Not necessarily. I mean I think what we're concentrating on is having a conversation with Iowans, and we've done that over the last several years of -- again, these couples are -- are part of the fabric of our -- of our communities. They’re -- they’re producing -- you know, they're -- they're tax paying citizens and they just want to -- they just want to be left alone and not face the constant attacks of -- of organizations.

Henderson: Gentlemen, let's step back from the tactics for a moment and talk about the world view of most Iowans, maybe the social mores that are acceptable in Iowa. Mr.Carroll, what do you think the general Iowa view is in regards to gay marriage?

Carroll: They oppose it. They know -- they know that it is contrary to the word of God. They know that it is contrary and flies in the face of over 200 years of history in our country. Almost that long in the state of Iowa. Not almost but well over a hundred years in Iowa. And they just can't believe it. They feel like their government has let them down. The comment that I hear most often: I just can't believe it; I didn't think this would happen. They’re not -- they're not the kind of people -- you know Iowans as well as I do. They’re not the kind of people who go looking for a fight. They’re not to put down anybody. They’re not to in any way disparage the contribution anybody makes to a committee -- or a community. But you are not going to rewrite the laws on marriage contrary to biblical standards and teaching and the word of God and do so behind closed doors by people who are not elected and not give the people a chance to be heard. At least let them vote. Mike, your question to Brad is right to the point. No, he does not want it to go to a vote of the people because he's pretty sure they'll lose. They don't believe -- they don't believe in the cause enough to take it into court of public debate.

Henderson: Mr. Clark, I will let you respond to that same question about what you think the average view of gay marriage is in Iowa.

Clark: Well, I think the Supreme Court when they wrote their decision and as, you know, Governor Culver and many other folks have said since, they really defined the difference between religious and civil marriage. And as we begin to talk to Iowans about that, there's a very big difference between religious and civil marriage. You know, this isn't going to change any -- any house of worship or church's ability to pick and choose whom they're going to marry. What this does do is allow the government to give civil marriage licenses and the rights and protections that come with it to -- to couples.

Glover: Are we on a continuum here? Tell me where we are on the continuum. I assume societal attitudes towards this issue change over time. Describe that. Where are we on that continuum?

Clark: Well, you know, I think an ABC nationwide poll came out today that showed that -- that more and more folks are seeing this as -- as a civil rights issue, that -- that they're -- and there is a generational gap there as, folks -- you know, you'll be hard pressed to find someone my age or folks older than me that -- that don't know someone that's gay or lesbian and that -- that they think that their friends and neighbors should have the same rights and abilities that they have.

Glover: Mr.Carroll, I’d like you to respond to that question as to where we are on this continuum. And it's been suggested to me that you won't find many people under thirty and perhaps under forty who care a lot about gay marriage. Where are we on this continuum? What direction is the state going?

Carroll: Where are we on this continuum? It’s hard to say. We know where we've been. We have watched society continue to make compromise after compromise. I’m a good deal older than brad. In fact, he was a classmate of my daughter.

Borg: Let me put it this way. Is time working against you?

Carroll: Oh, I don't know, Dean. I can't -- it's hard to -- it's hard to have a view of history, but we've compromised on prayer in school in the 1960s. We’ve compromised on life in the womb in the 1970s. We started compromising on gambling in the 1980s to where we now have 20 some casinos, and now we're starting to compromise on marriage. Conservative Christian people in the state of Iowa are saying enough is enough. How far do we keep going down this road, keep making compromise after compromise only to wake up years down the road and see the consequences of those compromises.

Glover: Help me with that term, Mr.Carroll, conservative. I’m an old guy like you. When I grew up, liberal meant the government ought to be very deeply involved in your life. Conservative meant the government ought to take its hands off of what you're doing. But conservatives who argue for this particular issue are arguing to get the government involved in a deeply personal issue.

Carroll: Come on, Mike. Government has been involved in marriage for decades. We didn't go looking for this fight. It was brought to us. It was the homosexual community who came into the state of Iowa, not through the front door. They came in through the back door through the courts because they knew the argument wouldn't stand up under a debate scrutiny within the legislative process. They come in and they start making the changes. We’re just -- just leave it alone. We didn't ask for this.

Glover: Mr. Clark, the same question to you. Some viewers might be a little bit confused by what's conservative and what's liberal. It strikes me that people who advocate against gay marriage are advocating for the government to be deeply involved in a personal issue.

Clark: I would agree and I do think this cuts both ways. I grew up in a deeply religious community with very conservative values, and those values revolved around family and a commitment to that community. And I think those are conservative and liberal values and that's -- these couples didn't come from far away. These couples were born and raised in our communities. These were six courageous same-sex couples that are all across the state that advocated for these rights.

Borg: Mr. Clark, one way that is demonstrated how much support either side has is how much money are you raising in order to support candidates who -- how is the money raising going for you, and are you actively involved right now in this political campaign for the fall in fund-raising and contributing?

Clark: Yeah. I mean I think in this -- these hard economic times, obviously, fund-raising is always a challenge, but we will be likely raising money, encouraging our staff and our volunteers and our supporters to go and work for fair-minded candidates.

Glover: Mr. Clark, I’d like to get you to target a specific group. In the legislature -- in the house was where there was a recorded vote on it. There were some rural democrats who probably took a pretty tough vote, because I don't know how popular gay marriage is in rural sections of Iowa. Maybe less popular than in urban sections. What are you going to do for those folks?

Clark: Well, I think we're going out there and spreading our -- our positive message, and I think it's also a message that democratic leadership has been very clear about. And what those -- what those legislators did this week wasn't necessarily on -- on marriage specifically. What we're talking about is pushing forward an agenda that's looking at creating jobs and balancing the budget, and that's what they've been very clear about doing.

Glover: And, Mr.Carroll, is that your hit list, those rural democrats? Are they the most --

Carroll: Those -- those democrats who voted against the rule 60 in the house and those who refused to sign the discharge petition in the senate will have to go home and explain to their constituents not why they voted for or against marriage but why they would not even vote to consider a debate on a constitutional amendment that is going to go before the people. The people who are holding those legislators accountable aren't necessarily asking them to take a position on the issue. Just let us vote.

Glover: Who are you going after?

Carroll: Just put us -- we'll go after them all.

Borg: It seems to me --

Carroll: If you -- if you are not willing to stand up for marriage in the state of Iowa, then you should be removed from office.

Glover: Your group put out a statement just this week targeting Jack Kibbie in particular, the president of the senate from Emmetsburg.

Carroll: Jack -- Jack Kibbie, a good friend. I respect Jack but he's heard from a lot of constituents, people that I know in northwest Iowa. He has told them that he supports marriage. But when it came time to sign the petition, he would not sign it. And he's in a position of leadership.

Borg: It seems to me that you are splitting the Republican Party. Do you see that?

Carroll: No. Perhaps the Republican Party is splitting itself, but you either stand for marriage or you don't. It’s simple as that.

Borg: Kay.

Henderson: Mr. Clark, your group has been running television advertisements way before 2010, an election year. Why are you doing that?

Clark: Well, we think that it's part of our public education. You know, we know that -- that this issue -- people are having conversations all over the state about this. And we think that it's part of our mission and part of our goal is to engage in that conversation with everyday Iowans. You know, and it's a message talking about the difference between religious and civil marriage, a commitment to fairness and equality. You know, our state has had a long history of commitment to fairness. One of the very first Supreme Court cases dealt in the matter of -- where our state overturned slavery. We’re talking about a long history of civil rights here.

Borg: I’m sorry that we're out of time.

Clark: That's okay.

Borg: Thank you. Thank you very much for spending time with us today. Well, that's this weekend's edition of Iowa Press. I hope you'll be watching next weekend at the usual times, 7:30 Friday night and 11:30 Sunday morning. I’m Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation. The Iowa Bankers Association ... for personal, business, and commercial needs, Iowa banks help Iowans reach their financial goals. Iowa Community Foundations, an initiative of the Iowa Council of Foundations … connecting donors to the causes and communities they care about for good, for Iowa, for ever. Details at The Associated General Contractors of Iowa … the public's partner in building Iowa’s highway, bridge, and municipal utility infrastructure. And by Iowa’s Private Colleges and Universities, enrolling 25 percent of the total Iowa higher education enrollment and conferring 44 percent of the baccalaureate and 40 percent of the graduate degrees in the state. More information is available at   Iowa’s 118 hospitals are dedicated to serving all Iowans with community focused health care. 70,000 hospital employees provide real value every day. Quality care that's always there. The Iowa Hospital Association ... we care about Iowa’s health.

Tags: Democrats gays and lesbians gender Iowa Iowa legislature marriage politics Republicans same-sex marriage