Gay marriage ruling Friday; no legislative reaction to it this year

The Iowa Supreme Court will issue its ruling on Varnum v. Brien (a gay marriage case) on Friday, April 3, 2009 at 8:30 a.m.

Legislative leaders of BOTH PARTIES say it is likely the 2009 legislature will adjourn in the next week or 10 days without reacting to the decision.  "I think we've already said we thought we should have reacted off the district court just like we did with the flag destruction case, but — look, this legislature has two jobs:  pass a balanced budget and help put Iowans back to work and we haven't done either one of them," said House GOP Leader Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha.

"So you don't think your job…" I asked, to reframe the opening question about legislators responding to the gay marriage ruling. Paulsen interrupted me mid-phrase.

"We have two jobs:  help put Iowans back to work and pass a balanced budget," Paulsen said.  "To the extent we can get something else done on the side, I'm fine with that, but that's what we should be focusing our attention on."

"I would expect a large part of your constituency would expect you have legislation ready to file tomorrow if they rule it unconstitutional.  Is that not the case?" Jeneane Beck of Iowa Public Radio interjected.

"From a partisan side, I suppose so, but from a legislative side, which is the way I understood the question, this legislature has two jobs coming in and to the extent we can deal with this we will, but that's what we need to do."

Rod Boshart of The Cedar Rapids Gazette followed:  "So, regardless of the outcome tomorrow, you are comfortable adjourning and going home without taking any action on that issue?"

"I mean, we need to see the decision," Paulsen replied,

Jeneane Beck invited the Republican leader in the Iowa Senate to weigh in on this. "Senator McKinley, what's your opinion?" she asked.

"What I would say is that I believe Iowans believe in traditional marriage.  I believe traditional marriage is between a man and a woman.  I do not know what the supreme court will come up with.  I do believe if Mike Gronstal will allow a bill to come forward, we'd see at least 26 votes in the senate to pass it," Senate Republican Leader Paul McKinley of Chartion said.

Back, as soon as I can, with an update on what Democratic legislative leaders said.

UPDATE:  Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs read from a prepared statement during a weekly news conference in his office. "Tomorrow's civil rights ruling's the final step in a lengthy legal process and we have said from the start we're going to wait and see that decision and review it before we take any action," Gronstal said, from his prepared remarks, then he added: "so I'm not going to make any comments or speculation today on that." 

House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines spoke next (he is an attorney, by the way). "We're going to encourage everybody to take a deep breath and analyze the decision.  The first thing we're going to do is read the legal decision to see what it says and after that, we'll make an intelligent determination on where we go from there," McCarthy told reporters.  "But we will not be engaging in any hypotheticals today on what the decision could, possibly, dictate."

UPDATE II:  Here is the Radio Iowa story.  There is an audio file at the bottom of the page if you'd like to listen to the weekly statehouse news conferences featuring Democratic and Republican legislative leaders.  The story includes this key information about the gay marriage issue:  Under current Iowa law, the only marriages legally recognized in the state are those between a man and a woman…..The process of amending the state's constitution is long.  If the 2010 legislature endorses an amendment, 2012 is the earliest it could be placed before Iowa voters.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.