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Same-sex marriage opponents face uphill fight in Iowa
The long and difficult process of amending Iowa’s constitution coupled with changing attitudes over time makes it unlikely that Friday morning’s state Supreme Court decision voiding a ban on same-sex marriage will be overturned, according to a University of Iowa political scientist who has been polling the issue.
David Redlawsk, associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa, said in an interview that the future of the same-sex marriage debate in Iowa would most likely follow in the footsteps of Massachusetts. In 2004, that state’s Supreme Court issued a ruling stating it was unconstitutional to allow only heterosexual couples to marry. Efforts to amend the constitution and ban same-sex marriage began immediately, and while at first it seemed inevitable, support dwindled and the effort stalled.
Redlawsk predicts a similar scenario.
“It’s hard to amend the constitution in Iowa. You can’t do it overnight,” he said. “My prediction is that this will be a lot like Massachusetts, in that there will be a reaction, some people will be unhappy, but over the time it takes to enact a constitutional amendment, people will simply become more accepting, especially as younger people get older.”
A new University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll released Thursday shows 60 percent of Iowans under age 30 support same-sex marriage, and three-fourths of Iowans under 30 favor some formal recognition of same-sex relationships. That indicates that passion objection could fade over time.
“There is a huge generational difference,” said Redlawsk, who oversees the poll. “For younger Iowans, this approaches a non-issue. They are not sitting there worrying about whether people who are gay can get married. I think that is very clear in the data.”
Democratic leadership in both legislative chambers seemed to close the door on amending the state’s constitution in a joint statement after the high court’s decision was made public. And on Thursday, even members of the Republican leadership agreed the issue is unlikely to surface during the final weeks of the 2009 legislative session.
But Democratic Gov. Chet Culver has previously said he would be willing to call a special session to “protect marriage between a man and a woman,” and Republicans have promised to hammer Democrats on the issue in 2010, when the House and governor’s mansion will be up for grabs.
“I think you’re going to see more tension between the governor and Democratic legislative leadership,” said Jeff Angelo, a former Republican state senator from Creston. “The governor has said he would call a session to deal with a verdict in this case and legislative leadership issued a statement lauding the decision.”
Angelo pointed to a Des Moines Register poll of legislators last year that showed 123 of 150 lawmakers said they believed marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
“You have a number of legislators who said ‘I believe marriage is between a man and a woman but I’m going to wait for the court to rule,’” he said. “Now, you’re going to pull that statement up and say ‘So, how are you going to vote now that we have a ruling.’ This issue certainly has traction in 2010.”
If Culver calls a special session, legislators will be put on the spot, Angelo said.
The effect same-sex marriage will have on 2010 legislative elections will be decided district by district across the state, Angelo said, so it’s unclear right now which party will have an advantage.
State Rep. Mary Mascher, an Iowa City Democrat, said that in previous years Democrats have managed to pass bills that gave gay and lesbian students protection from bullying at school and civil rights protections to LGBT citizens.
“We passed those and no one got beat because of it,” Mascher said.
A more likely first step opponents will take will be to change Iowa’s marriage law to add a residency requirement. Several conservative activists are already calling for such a change, fearing same-sex couples from around the country will come to Iowa to be married, return home and challenge their state’s marriage laws. U.S. Rep. Steve King, a Kiron Republican, said Iowa has the potential to become a “gay marriage Mecca.”
Redlawsk said there is little doubt Republicans will make the court’s ruling an issue going forward. Whether it will get much traction is unclear.
“My sense is that it is really hard to get traction on issues that aren’t economic in nature,” he said. “There will be some backlash, but since we’re a year-and-a-half from voting, in the end I think it won’t matter as much. A majority of Iowans isn’t bothered by the idea of same-sex relationships.”
If a vote could be held tomorrow, opponents could “whip up a majority,” Redlawsk said. “But there is a lot of time for Iowans to get used to the idea of same-sex marriage.”
Time will be an effective tool for supporters of same-sex marriage, Angelo said.
“I think if you’re a proponent of gay marriage you’re going to take the next couple of years to demonstrate to people that no bigger societal damage is being done,” he said. “Whether that means there won’t be the votes to pass a constitutional amendment, I just don’t know.”
Overall, only one-third of Iowans polled say they are opposed to any form of same-sex relationships. The rest either favor same-sex marriage or civil unions, although the court’s ruling clearly eliminated civil unions as an option.
The poll, which was conducted prior to Friday’s ruling, also asked Iowans what the state should do if the Supreme Court upholds a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry.
The question provided three options: Amend the Iowa constitution to ban same-sex relationships; amend it to ban same-sex marriage but allow civil unions; or accept the decision to allow gay marriage in Iowa.
Across the entire sample, 30.4 percent of Iowans favor accepting a ruling to allow same-sex marriage. One-fourth supports the creation of civil unions as an acceptable alternative. One-third believe the constitution should be amended to ban any same-sex relationship.
“This represents a very small increase in support for marriage following a court ruling, drawing mostly from respondents who generally prefer civil unions,” Redlawsk said.
Another poll, paid for by a conservative 527 organization founded in 2004 by former GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Gross, found that 60 percent of Iowans survey would be either “not very” or “not at all” willing to support a candidate who supports allowing same-sex couples to marry.