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Former GOP lawmaker: Marriage equality consistent with conservative principles
Over the past few years a nearly unspoken prohibition on diversity has emerged among Iowa Republicans in relation to the subject of civil marriage. Former Sen. Jeff Angelo is convinced not only that the prohibition must end, but that a failure to do so jeopardizes core conservative principles of limited government.“You have to start somewhere. Where I’m starting is to say that I believe it is actually within the principles espoused by conservatives to support same-sex marriage,” Angelo said in an exclusive interview with The Iowa Independent hours before launching a new advocacy group, “Iowa Republicans for Freedom.”
“If we are in favor of freedom and are in favor of limited government, then we have to acknowledge that these values — the values of being in favor of marriage equality — are consistent with our conservative principles.”
He acknowledges there are strong emotions at play for many of those individuals who favor exclusive heterosexual marriages, but cautions such emotions can serve as blinders.
“Sometimes we get so passionate about an issue that we actually stomp all over principles that we would normally defend,” he said.
Angelo, a Republican who chose to leave the Iowa Legislature in 2009, was once a lead sponsor of legislation that sought to ban same-sex marriage in Iowa. He’s since changed his position and, despite push-back from some fellow Republicans, refuses to relinquish what describes as “the title of conservative.”
“One of the things that we are going to come up against is that people, conservative Republicans who are in favor of marriage equality, get intimidated at local meetings,” Angelo said. “They get told they aren’t really a Republican if they support it. So they just stop showing up for meetings and they stop speaking out in favor of equality because they don’t want their commitment to Republican principles to be questioned. … I’m not comfortable with that. The intimidation that’s been happening is a big problem.”
The Iowa Republicans for Freedom organization, which will be officially launched Wednesday during a press conference at the Iowa Capitol, seeks to identify and network GOP members throughout the state who believe conservative values of smaller government should keep government out of the private lives of all Iowans, including gays and lesbians.
“In my party we always talk about how we don’t want an activist court. So why would we want an activist Constitution?” he asked. “Those against same-sex marriage want to put something into the Iowa Constitution that is effectively legislation, which is not why the Constitution was constructed. The Constitution is intended to protect individual rights and limit government.”
Laboring Under Delusions
When political discussions are focused on ideology, Angelo said, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of “the real people, real Iowans, real friends, real neighbors, real relatives” who are being hurt by the ongoing debate about marriage in Iowa.
“I previously bought into the notion that I could tell my gay friends how much I loved them, that I just disapproved of their lifestyle and they would be OK with that,” Angelo admitted. “But they told me that I made them feel lesser in my eyes or that I made them feel like a second-class citizen. I labored under delusion for some time that [what my friends said] wasn’t true, that they really believed I loved them and that I was their friend.”
Although Angelo now understands the statements from his friends were true reflections of their feelings and emotions toward his actions to deny them the ability to marry, he isn’t ready to call foul on current elected officials who have fueled much of the ongoing discussions by introducing and passing legislation aimed at establishing a ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions within the Constitution. Instead, the lion share of his criticism is reserved for himself and other like-minded Republicans.
“If only one side of an issue is speaking out, then a person is going to believe they are doing the right thing in allowing the majority to have their way,” he said. “I feel like there are some legislators that had some real struggles with voting for the Constitutional Amendment earlier this session, but ultimately felt they were doing the right thing by their constituents. The only way to turn that around is if people begin to speak to the opposite side of this issue.
“In other words, if there isn’t any organization like Iowa Republicans for Freedom, and there aren’t any Republicans willing to stand up and say they are for marriage equality, then what is a Republican elected official to do?”
For that specific reason, Angelo says he won’t blame current Republican elected officials for “acting the way they have done.”
“I know how this process works. I can get some votes in my direction. I can get some Republicans to speak actively in favor of marriage equality if they know that people are going to be backing them when they do that,” he said. “Given the current environment, I do understand how the Governor and legislators are acting at this particular point, and I wish I would have changed my mind a little bit earlier and would have gotten this work done a little bit earlier. But I’m starting now.”
A Passionate Advocate
Angelo, who made his change of heart known during a January public hearing in the Iowa House, said that just speaking at a hearing wouldn’t have been enough for him on any issue.
“I’m well aware that this isn’t going to be easy. It wouldn’t have been easy three years ago, and now I’m starting off much later than those with an opposite view. But I also know that politics is ultimately the art of persuasion,” he said.
“I am a person who is very passionately committed to the things that I believe — not just on this issue, but on all types of issues. It’s the way that I am, and I never sit back on an issue that I believe in and not actually pursue it, not actually become part of it and promote it. So it wouldn’t be sincere of me if I came out and said that this is very important, that people of the same sex should be allowed to marry, and then not do anything else about it. That isn’t how I’m built.”
He hopes his voice can rise above “hurtful political rhetoric” and help Iowa Republicans understand that it “is a positive thing for Iowa” to support same-sex marriage.
“I truly believe that the debate over marriage equality in Iowa is not resulting in anything good. People are being hurt. People are angry. People are being divided,” said Angelo. “I don’t see anything good coming out of a continued fight to discriminate against gays and lesbians who want to be married. I think the more positive outcome is for us to support them. And I think it is especially important for Republicans to hear that from their fellow Republicans.”