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Branstad refuses to say whether gay marriage bill goes too far
Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday morning that Iowans should be allowed to vote on same-sex marriage, but declined to say if a proposed resolution to be debated tonight at a public hearing is too far-reaching in denying state recognition of civil unions and other domestic partnerships.
“I think the people of Iowa would appreciate and feel strongly that they should be given the opportunity to vote,” Branstad said in a news conference with Statehouse reporters in response to a question from The Iowa Independent. He said whether the proposal goes too far is a matter for the legislature to sort out and not an issue that falls under the purview of the governor.
“That’s a legislative issue,” Branstad said. “What the people of Iowa want is an opportunity to vote on marriage defined as one man and one woman.”
Monday night’s two-hour hearing on House Joint Resolution 6 begins at 6:30 in the Iowa House chambers. Dozens of Iowans are scheduled to speak for and against the proposed amendment, which would have to pass both the House and the Senate in two consecutive general assemblies before going to a public vote. The proposed resolution faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, a Council Bluffs Democrat, has vowed to block it.
Civil rights advocates have blasted the proposed resolution, which states that “marriage between one man and one woman shall be the only legal union valid or recognized in this state,” as writing prejudice and discrimination into the Iowa Constitution.
Branstad said Iowa voters overwhelmingly expressed their desire to vote on same-sex marriage in the November judicial retention election in which three Supreme Court justices were ousted. In a unanimous April 2009 ruling, the high court upheld a lower court ruling in Varnum vs. Brien that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated equal protection rights guaranteed in the Iowa Constitution.
On a related issue, Branstad said interviews with nine finalists to fill the vacancies recommended by the 15-member Judicial Nominating Commission will likely begin next week. Initial interviews with the 60 people who applied for appointments were held in open, but the governor’s interviews will be closed. He says it’s a matter of fairness, because candidates interviewed later in the process would have an unfair advantage over the first interviewers.
The name of only one woman – University of Iowa law professor Angela Onwuachi-Willig – was included in the Judicial Nominating Commission’s recommendation, which Branstad said was disappointing. Only two women have ever served on the high court, including former Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, who along with Justices David Baker and Michael Streit were turned out by voters in November.
The only other woman to serve on the Supreme Court was Linda Neuman, who served from 1986 to 2003.
Other finalists to be considered by Branstad are District Judges Robert James Blink of West Des Moines, Arthur Gamble of Clive, Michael R. Mullins of Washington and Bruce B. Zager of Waterloo; Iowa Appeals Court Judge Edward M. Mansfield of Des Moines; and private attorneys John C. Gray of Sioux City, Steven Verne Lawyer of New Virginia and Thomas Dana Waterman of Pleasant Valley.
Branstad said he won’t specifically ask the finalists about the Varnum decision, but will question them more generally to determine their fairness, temperament, knowledge and expertise.
He said his chief legal counsel, Brenna Findley, will review the backgrounds of the finalists. Findley, who formerly worked in the office of conservative Congressman Steve King, unsuccessfully challenged Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat, in the November election.
“I take this very, very seriously,” Branstad said.