House debate on gay marriage

As many House members sit at their desks to eat the lunches provided by Iowa’s insurance industry, the debate has begun on a resolution that would set up a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment, an amendment which would declare the only legally valid unions in Iowa are those between a man and a woman.  It would make civil unions, domestic partnerships and same-sex marriages illegal. 

At 11:19 a.m., Representative Dwayne Alons began speaking about the history behind this proposal.  “A groundswell of support for traditional marriage has arisen and people all across Iowa are saying, ‘Let us vote!’ Alons said, raising his voice as he said those last three words.

He mentioned the 2010 judicial retention election which tossed three justices off the Iowa Supreme Court. “Iowans are kind of like the person in the cell phone advertisement,” Alons said. “They’re saying, ‘Can you hear me now?'”

Alons said a constitutional amendment is “the only way to rectify the overreach of the court in this situation.”

At 11:28 a.m. Alons finished his opening remarks on the proposal.  Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroschell, a Democrat from Ames, spoke next, praising married same-sex couples. “Marriage says, ‘We’re a family’ like nothing else,” Wessel-Kroschell said.  She cited research which concluded “parenting effectiveness not related to sexual orientation.” 

A few minutes later, she said: “Sometimes we need to ignore the polls and do the right thing. This is one of those cases.  We need to be on the right side of history.”

According to Wessel-Kroeschell, only two states have constitutional amendments “as restrictive as this one” — one that would ban civil unions and domestic partnerships as well as gay marriages.

“This Isn’t the mainstream,” she said. “It is extreme.  Only two other states have gone this far.”

Wessel-Kroeschell used up her 10-minutes-worth of speaking time.  Rep. Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City, was the next speaker and without mentioning him by name, she praised Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) for vowing to block a vote on this resolution. Mascher said he was following the rules outlined in the state constitution. “That is part of what was adopted in 1846.  It means the rights of the minority can and should be protected,” she said.

Mascher mentioned that President George W. Bush’s daughter, Barbara, came out in favor of gay marriage this week.  “Pretty bold statement for a Republican, wouldn’t you say?” Mascher asked, rhetorically.  

Mascher said gay marriage opponents are “frantic” about passing this amendment now. “They are frantic because they’re losing the debate,” she said. “Young people, Democrat and Republican alike, overwhelmingly support same-sex marriage. With the young people of this country you have already lost…It’s only a matter of time before this debate becomes part of history and many will wonder why there was such a fuss.” 

Next speaker is Rep. Bruce Hunter, a Democrat from Des Moines.  “Just how many jobs will this resolution create?” Hunter asked Alons. 

Alons replied: “I don’t know.  Do you know?”

Hunter said: “None. It will probably cost the state jobs.”

(BTW:  this debate was originally scheduled to begin at 3 p.m., but threatening weather prompted House leaders to start the debate earlier.  Looking out the west windows of the Iowa House which face downtown Des Moines at this hour, the skyline of downtown is fairly well obscured by blowing snow.)

Hunter suggested a slogan for the US:  “America:  come for the religious liberty; stay for the iron-clad rights.”

“it’s time to stand up and say that the Iowa Constitution will remain a living, breathing document that guarantees rights for all citizens, not just some.”

Next speaker: Nate Willems, a Democrat from Lisbon, who asked both Representatives Glenn Massie and Kim Pearson is they would answer his questions about the proposal.  Both refused.  There’s now a gathering in the center of the House, around the speaker’s desk, as folks discuss this unusual development.  (It’s rare for legislators to “refuse to yield” — “yield” being the legislative way of describing the process of one legislator answering another legislator’s questions during debate.)

“I, in all honesty, would like to ask somebody from the majority, perhaps who has legal training,” Willems said.  He asked Rep. Erik Helland, a Republican from Johnston, to answer a few questions about the opinion.

“I have not read it verbatim, word for word,” Helland began as the two lawyers engaged in a discussion of the equal protection clause.

“If you disagree with that ruling, you should go back to the source of the problem and remedy it,” Willems said, pointing to the equal protection cause. “…This resolution is aimed at taking away equal legal rights.”

Next speaker: Rep, Ako Abdul-Samad, a Democrat from Des Moines.  Abdul-Samad, who is black, began by talking about slavery and discrimination.  “The issue isn’t about civil unions,” he said of gay marriage. “…The issue is about rights…The issue is about: Do we have the right to discriminate against anybody? What right do we have to be in people’s bedrooms?”

“…I’m asking my colleagues in here to stand up for what is right and stand up for people’s rights. Take out of your mind homophobia…I ask you to vote no on this resolution….Look at me, and be able to say, ‘Ako, I wouldn’t want your rights violated.'”

Next speaker: Rep, Vicki Lensing, a Democrat from Iowa City.  She quoted James Madison: “Our founding fathers have wisely worded this document (our constitution) in rather general terms…to meet changing conditions.” 

Lensing praised the 2009 Iowa Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage. “I believe in equal rights.  I don’t think state government should tell Iowans whom they should and shouldn’t marry…I land on the side of fairness.”

Next speaker: Rep. Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines.  “What does threaten marriage?  Not having a job, getting caught up in payday loans, cheating on your spouse,” Petersen said, arguing gay marriage doesn’t threaten marriage.

Next speaker: Rep. Mary Wolfe, a Democrat from Clinton.  “I truly believe that I did swear an oath…to support and uphold the U.S. and Iowa constitution and I believe that the amendment…is wrong.  It is a violation of both the spirit and the letter of both of those constitutions,” she said. 

Next speaker: Rep. Cindy Winckler, a Democrat from Davenport. “I believe in equal rights, period,” she said. “I don’t think the state should be in the business of telling people who they can and cannot marry….Denying lovers the right to marry is a violation of human dignity.”  She cried.  “I’m sorry I’m so emotional about this,” Winckler said. “Equality means a lot to me.”

Next speaker:  Rep. Todd Taylor, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids. “This proposal takes away freedom, and that is unprecedented,” he said. “…Please join me in voting no. And then can we get back to the people’s business?”

Next speaker: Rep. Chuck Isenhart, a Democrat from Dubuque.  “I vote today based on my direct knowledge of how our laws effect the daily lives of people,” Isenhart said  “…If that means my constituents will send someone else here…so be it.”

Next speaker: Rep. Lisa Heddens, a Democrat from Ames. “I think what we’re doing here today is wrong,” she said. “We’re taking away a group of people’s rights…and I think that it is incumbent on us to support people, not to write discrimmination in our constitution.”

Next speaker: Rep. Chris Hall, a Democrart from Sioux City.  He mentioned the last election. “Voters were more interested in who is waiting in the unemployment line than who is waiting for a marriage license at the recorder’s office,” Hall said.

Next speaker: Rep. Sharon Steckman, a Democrat from Mason City. “I don’t know about you, but when we look back 50 years from now are we going to be as proud of the decision we make here today?” Steckman said.  Steckman said during campaign season she knocked on 8000 doors and fielded just four questions about gay marriage.  “How much longer are we going to spend on divisive issues and ignore what Iowans really want?” she asked. “…I’m tired of wasting taxpayers’ dollars. Let’s get to work.”

Next speaker: Rep. Dave Jacoby, a Democrat from Coralville.  He asked Helland about something he said to Willems.  “The reality is, this comes down to a philosophical debate,” Helland said.  Jacoby then asked Alons if the “only” in the resolution means only a first marriage would be legally recognized in Iowa if the amendment passes.

“We’re not addressing divorce or any of those things,” Alons said. 

“This bill, to me, is big government,” Jacoby said.  “To those of you who hate cameras on the highway, you’re really going to hate those cameras in the bedroom.”

Next speaker: Rep. Tyler Olson, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids. “The decision to me on how to vote…is really very basic.  There are basic rights to which everyone is entitled.  Once the state wades in…the Iowa Constitution requires those rights to be extended to all citizens,” Olson said.  “…Our constitution requires us to provide the same legal rights to all citizens.” 

Next speaker: Rep. Dan Kelley, a Democrat from Newton.  He quoted Martin Niemoller.

Next speaker: Rep. Richard Anderson, a Republican from Clarinda.  “This is one of those…social issues that divide our nation.  That’s why we’re debating it — because it’s important…as important or more important than jobs.  We all know people who are homosexual.  We have a sense of compassion and yearning for people to find that which they want most, which is love and acceptance and this is one of those issues that people who are sensitive about that still have some severe disagreements and that’s what we’re seeing here today.”

Anderson said he didn’t know to find the middle ground on this issue.

“We all agree that no one has a civil right to have a non-martial relationship be treated as a  marriage,” he said. “Marriage is and has historically been recognized…as a union between a male and a female…and the state has seen as its primary duty, historically, to protect that because it is unique in the sustaining of human life because it’s trhough marriage that life is created…The reason we try to protect marriage is because we want to protect something called ‘responsible procreation’…We want to drive procreation into a stable relationship…A male and a female can do something a homosexual couple cannot.  They can create children.”

He addressed the argument some had raised that the proposed amendment would deny lovers the right to marry.  “It isn’t about love and it isn’t about romance.  It’s about driving state policy towards responsible procreation,” Anderson said. “…Homosexual couples cannot produce children…That’s what marriage is.  That’s the issue.”

Anderson said the “harm” of gay marriage goes beyond just the harm to an individual marriage between a man and a woman.

“Well, if the gender doesn’t matter, does the number?” he asked. “That’s a slippery slope and I don’t know where the logic is to draw the line.”

Anderson’s 10-minute time limit expired.  Rep. Jerry Kearns, a Democrat from Keokuk, was next and he talked about union history.

Next speaker was Rep. Tom Shaw, a Republican from Laurens, who spoke, in a conversation with Alons.  He asked Alons about the “cameras in the bedroom comment” from Jacoby.

“That is not in this amendment,” Alons replied.

Sands asked: “Are you seeking to regulate what goes on in a bedroom?”

Alons: “No.”

Sands: “That’s all I have.”

Rep. Pat Murphy, a Democrat from Dubuque, was next to speak. “Folks, this is the United States,” he said.  “We change all the time.”  He started to praise Senate Majority Leader Gronstal for vowing to block a senate vote on this resolution, but his 10-minutes expired at that point.

Next up: Rep. Greg Forristall, a Republican from Macedonia. “This is a debate about whether a right exists.  The legislature and the supreme court disagree so we’re going to the people to let them decide,” he said. “Let the people decide.”

Rep. Wessel-Kroeschell spoke a second time. She said marriage “can’t possibly be about procreation” because oppose-sex couples who are sterile and opposite-sex elderly couples who are past child-bearing age are allowed to marry.  “I’m from Iowa and I’m for marriage equality…and everyone should have the opportunity and the right to marry the person they love,” she said.

Next up: Rep. Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City.  She had a conversation with House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Hiawatha; then with Rep. Alons.  Things got testy and people tramped down to the speaker’s desk to sort it out, I took the opportunity to change the batteries in my digital recorder. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, we should not be denying same-sex couples the right to marry,” Mascher said and she again referred to Gronstal’s vow not to bring this up in the senate.  “…If one chamber says, ‘No,’ that’s part of the process.”

Next up: Rep. Richard Anderson, a Republican from Clarinda, who spoke earlier. “Obviously procreation is not a requirement of marriage,” Anderson said. “What I said was it was the rational basis for state regulation of marriage.”

“…The reason the legislative branch is responding to the Iowa Supreme Court is that’s part of the process,” Anderson said. “….On this important issue, the people of Iowa want the opportunity to vote. It’s the people who determine the constitution…and giving them a right to vote illustrates a devotion to democracy, not bias.”

Next up: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Democrat from Des Moines who spoke briefly.  He said today’s vote “may be politically costly from some;  it may be politically advantagesou for others…Many, many years from now we will look back in time on this vote today and we will regret it.”

Next up: Rep. Phyllis Thede, a Democrat from Bettendorf.  “Whether you mean to or not, this decision will spur hatred and that hurts,” said Thede, who is black. “I have been a victim of hatred and let me tell you, it bothers me….People are still prejudiced…I feel it.  All of you here are initiating hatred.  That is not your intention, but you are initiating it.”

“…The one thing that the Lord, Jesus Christ, has told me to do is love…and the other thing that God teaches me is we are not to be in judgement of other people,” she said.  “…Whatever we do, we all have original sin. We’re all equal in that manner.”

At1:54 p.m. Alons began delivering closing remarks on the resolution.

“This discussion has been rather lengthy…I appreciate of what all was said, but…we are not stepping off a cliff into a deep, dark hole and not doing something that is totally odd or strange,” Alons said, referring to other states which have passed similar amendment barring gay marriage, focusing on neighboring Nebraska.

“Today, we’ll be taking the first step.  It’s just one step of four that has to take place, so it’s a lengthy process, but let’s not hold this back and allow the seven unelected votes on the supreme court to act as an oligarchy.  It isn’t for that small group to decide…and because we have this impass on the decision…really, the only logical way to resolve it is by going to the people.”

Alons referred to Gronstal. “They should not stifle this process from going forward and especially by one person doing that.”

At 1:58 p.m. the voting began. At 2 p.m. the vote was done and announced: 62 yes; 37 no; one House member was absent (but in the House, a member has 10 minutes after the voting machine is closed to cast their vote).  UPDATE:  the chief clerk has printed off the vote.  Three Democrats — Representatives Dan Muhlbauer of Manilla; Brian Quirk of New Hampton and Kurt Swaim of Bloomfield — joined with 59 Republicans to vote in favor of the resolution.  The 60th Republican — Representative Betty De Boef — is ill and excused for the day.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
About O.Kay Henderson

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


  1. Great post–thanks for such a detailed account of the floor arguments.

  2. Best account yet of the debate… but if you only read what was said on the floor you’d swear the vote went the other way!


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by RadioIowa and James P. DeGroff, lisa grouette. lisa grouette said: Ugh. Why should equality ever be offered only as the result of the popular vote???????? #IOWA #IDIOTS […]

  2. Another Sad Day For Iowa: Passage Of HJR6…