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Judicial retention vote sets stage for push to overturn gay marriage
Now that Iowans have voted to oust three state Supreme Court justices, conservatives are beginning to wonder if they have the momentum to push to overturn the court’s 2009 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.
It was marriage that inspired the campaign to oust the judges, and it was prominent national anti-gay organizations that bankrolled the effort. Led by Mississippi-based American Family Association, the effort was aided by groups such as Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council, Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, Georgia-based Faith & Freedom Coalition and New Jersey-based National Organization for Marriage.
The organizations spent more than $1 million to oust the judges, with the campaign culminating in a 20-city bus tour across Iowa urging voters to kick the judges off the bench. Local leaders of the effort said rejecting the judges would set the stage for the fight over gay marriage and gay rights in Iowa and across the country.
Bob Vander Plaats, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate acted as spokesman for the campaign, told Radio Iowa just before midnight Tuesday that “history’s being made.”
“Iowans who have a great level of common sense and a measured response, the more they learned about this issue, the more they understood about this issue, the more they were willing to vote no because they saw an activist court that was wanted to make law from the bench and they knew that wasn’t their role,” he said. “Their voice was never heard on the same-sex marriage issue.”
Vander Plaats said later that, “the rest of the country is going to hear our voice.”
Craig Robinson, a former political director of the Republican Party of Iowa, wrote on his blog Tuesday that the vote may be enough to “motivate complacent legislators to finally get on board with a marriage amendment, and maybe even go around Mike Gronstal to do so.”
Gronstal, the Democratic leader in the state Senate, has repeatedly vowed to never allow a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage to come up for a vote. But with Republicans in control of the Iowa House, and a much smaller Democratic advantage in the state Senate, marriage may become a big issue during the 2011 session. During the 2010 session, advocates for an amendment came just five votes shy of forcing a vote on marriage over Gronstal’s objections.
Carolyn Jenison, executive director of the LGBT-rights group One Iowa, said the “courageous justices who recognized the freedom to marry in Iowa fell victim to a perfect storm of electoral discontent and out-of-state special interest money.”
“In the months and weeks ahead we can expect renewed attempts to overturn the freedom to marry and write discrimination into the Iowa Constitution,” she said in a statement to supporters. “It will take a concerted and collective effort on the part of pro-equality Iowans to respond to these attacks and defend on our liberties. We hope you’ll join us.”
In a joint statement, Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Associate Justices Michael Streit and David Baker thanked the Iowans who supported them for another term.
“Your support shows that many Iowans value fair and impartial courts,” the statement said. “We also want to acknowledge and thank all the Iowans, from across the political spectrum and from different walks of life, who worked tirelessly over the past few months to defend Iowa’s high-caliber court system against an unprecedented attack by out-of-state special interest groups.”
Despite the ouster of the judges, however, same-sex marriage will continue to be legal in Iowa, and outgoing Democratic Gov. Chet Culver has the authority to appoint the judges’ successors.
“While the full implications of these election results remain to be seen, one thing remains the same,” Jenison said. “The freedom to marry in Iowa remains intact.”