Iowa Leader Rules Out Gay Marriage Debate

DES MOINES, Iowa - A key lawmaker Monday ruled out any move to overturn an Iowa Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage, even as backers of that effort promised to step up pressure on the Legislature.

Meeting with reporters, Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, was clear about proposals to begin the process of amending Iowa's constitution to overturn the decision.

"It will not come up," said Gronstal. "I have no intention of taking it up."

House Speaker Pat Murphy, D-Dubuque, has issued a statement praising Friday's decision, but House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he wanted to talk to fellow Democrats before announcing his intentions.

"I haven't talked to my caucus," said McCarthy, D-Des Moines.

Rep. Dwayne Alons, a sponsor of a resolution seeking to put a constitutional amendment before voters that would ban gay marriage, said his phone lit up over the weekend.

"The people of this state should have a say," said Alons, R-Hull.

However, with Democrats firmly in control of both legislative chambers and leaders like Gronstal opposing the effort, there appeared to be few options for gay marriage opponents.

"We're considering some options," said Alons. "That's a very important issue for the next election."

One option for gay marriage opponents seeking to amend the state's constitution is to push for a constitutional convention. Every 10 years voters are asked in the general election ballot if they want to hold a constituitonal convention.

If voters decide in 2010 they want one, it could be held the following year.

The gay marriage issue flared in the Senate on Monday afternoon, when Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley, R-Chariton, accused Gronstal of "pure obstruction." McKinley demanded action on a resolution that would start the process of amending the constitution and noted that Gronstal voted for the ban on gay marriage in 1998.

Gronstal conceded his earlier vote but said he'd changed his mind.

"I've learned a lot. I've talked to a lot of people," said Gronstal. "I see a bunch of people who merely want to profess their love for each other. I don't think that's so wrong."

Gronstal again ruled out debating the issue in the waning days of this year's session and held out little hope for next year.

"I'm not inclined to move legislation forward on this issue next year," said Gronstal. "It's time we learned to accept them."

Former state legislator Chuck Hurley, president of the conservative Iowa Family Policy Center, said gay marriage opponents would step up the pressure on Gronstal.

"He is denying 2.1 million Iowans of voting age of the right to vote on an issue of great importance to 550,000 schoolchildren," said Hurley. "Mike Gronstal needs to humble himself and listen to the people."

Gronstal has welcomed the decision and made clear he would oppose efforts to reject it.

"The politics of it are I'm not going to put discrimination in the Iowa Constitution," said Gronstal. "That's a horrible idea. The people who are pushing the amendment are saying equal protection under the law -- except. I think that's unacceptable."

Amending the state's constitution is a difficult and lengthy process. A resolution calling for the change must be approved by two consecutive General Assemblies, and then approved by voters in a statewide election.

As a practical matter that means a resolution would have to be approved this year or next, and then approved again by the General Assembly taking office in 2011 after the next election. That means the soonest the issue could go on the ballot is 2012.

If it isn't approved this year or next, the earliest voters could weigh in would be 2014.

Gov. Chet Culver has said only that he is studying the decision along with legal advisers. Spokesman Phil Roeder said the governor will likely have more to say on the issue, though the timing was uncertain.

Roeder acknowledged Culver was getting pressure on the issue from supporters and opponents.

"We're getting a bunch of phone calls and e-mails," said Roeder. "It's kind of split. It's been constant all day."

Legislative leaders are struggling to end this year's session by next week, and Gronstal's position virtually rules out any action on gay marriage this year. Lawmakers will likely face pressure from social conservatives when they convene next year.

Veteran Republican political strategist David Roederer said it's the longer term that could cause some headaches for Democrats who control both the Legislature and the governor's office.

"Long term it's going have a big impact in a couple of ways," said Roederer. "The last thing most legislators want is people paying attention to what goes on at the Capitol."

The gay marriage debate, he said, has focused that attention tightly on the workings of the Legislature, on an issue that both critics and backers feel passionately about, Roederer said.