Iowa: 'The Gay Marriage Mecca'?

Potential GOP presidential contenders on Iowa's same-sex marriage ruling.

April 3, 2009, 7:04 PM

April 3, 2009 -- A Republican congressman from Iowa warned Friday that the state could turn into "the gay marriage Mecca" if the state legislature does not begin restricting marriage licenses to in-state residents.

The statement from Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, which followed the Iowa Supreme Court's unanimous ruling striking down a state ban on same-sex marriage, underscored the emotional power the issue holds for social conservatives in the state, which will hold the GOP's first presidential nominating contest in 2012.

Iowa is now the third state where gay and lesbian couples are permitted to marry. The other two are Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Conservatives like King are pushing for a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

"It is the Iowa legislature's responsibility to pass the Marriage Amendment to the Iowa Constitution, clarifying that marriage is between one man and one woman, to give the power that the Supreme Court has arrogated to itself back to the people of Iowa," said King.

Given that Iowa is the state which kicks off the presidential contest, several Republicans who are eyeing a White House run in 2012 criticized the ruling and reaffirmed their opposition to same-sex marriage.

"I believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman and the definition of marriage should be left to the people and not to activist courts," former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., said in a written statement provided to ABC News.

The governor of South Carolina -- Republican Mark Sanford -- also criticized the ruling and touted his support for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in his state.

"The governor supported a constitutional amendment here banning same-sex unions. That position still holds," Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer told ABC News. "He's not the governor of Iowa, but he's against same-sex marriages."

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who supports civil unions for gays and lesbians, reacted to the Iowa decision by reiterating his support for restricting marriage to heterosexual couples. In 2004, Huntsman successfully backed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

"He believes all people should have equal rights," Huntsman spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley told ABC News. "But when it comes to marriage, Gov. Huntsman believes that should be reserved for a man and a woman."

Asked if he favors the passage of a constitutional amendment in Iowa, Roskelley said, "He would leave that up to Iowa and trust that they would address that appropriately within their state."

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the winner of the 2008 Iowa Republican caucuses, called the decision "disappointing."

"All Iowans should have a say in this matter, not a handful of legislative judges," said Huckabee in a written statement. "This issue is too important to not be made by the people of Iowa. It is my hope that the legislature will take the necessary steps to properly resolve this matter."

Erin Isaac, a spokesperson for Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, said, "[The governor] supports civil unions but believes that marriage is for a man and a woman."

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty also spoke out against the Iowa ruling.

"Gov. Pawlenty disagrees with the Iowa Supreme Court decision and believes that marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman," said Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung.

An aide to another potential Republican presidential candidate, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, played down the decision's relevance to his state.

"Does it include Louisiana?" asked Jindal spokeswoman Melissa Sellers.

Pam Pryor, a spokeswoman for Sarah Palin, told ABC News that the Alaska governor would not comment on the Iowa marriage ruling even though she is an ardent opponent of same-sex marriage.

Despite losing in court on Friday, social conservatives hope they will prevail by amending the state constitution.

"Same-sex 'marriage' continues to be a movement driven by a liberal judicial elite determined to destroy not only the institution of marriage, but democracy as well," said Tony Perkins, the president of the Washington-based Family Research Council. "The casual dismissal of the facts of human biology and thousands of years of human history, simply to pander to a small band of social radicals, is bizarre and indefensible."

While same-sex marriage opponents hope that Iowa will follow California in overturning a decision of its state Supreme Court, supporters of same-sex marriage are emboldened by the fact that it is considerably more difficult to amend the state constitution in Iowa than it is in California.

"The Iowa Constitution can't be changed quickly," said state Sen. Matt McCoy, Iowa's first openly gay state lawmaker, in a YouTube video released Friday.

A state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage would need to be approved by two consecutive legislative sessions, the 2009-10 session and the 2011-12 session, before going to the voters in a general election referendum, according to the Iowa secretary of state's office.

This means that the earliest Iowa voters could weigh in on this issue would be in November 2011: smack-dab in the middle of the Republican Party's 2012 nomination fight.