Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of stories previewing issues involving the election.
DES MOINES, Iowa (BP)–Nineteen months after the Iowa Supreme Court issued its ruling legalizing “gay marriage,” voters in the state will finally have their say in a statewide election that could have national consequences.
On Nov. 2 Iowans in the traditionally minded state will decide whether to remove three of the seven justices who signed the opinion, whether to boot a legislature that largely supported the decision, and whether to vote out a governor who also backed the ruling and has criticized all efforts to repeal it.
If everything falls their way on Election Day, opponents of the ruling could put Iowa on course to become only the second state — after California — to overturn a court’s pro-“gay marriage” decision with a constitutional amendment. All total, 31 states have passed marriage amendments.
Conservatives in the state seem to have the momentum, particularly on a judicial retention vote that will decide whether three Iowa Supreme Court justices — Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices David Baker and Michael Streit — remain on the court. A Des Moines Register poll of 550 likely voters Sept. 19-22 showed that of those who plan to vote on retention, 40 percent will vote to remove all three, 16 percent to remove some and 44 percent to retain all three. A “no” vote removes them from the bench.
The poll’s results were shocking to many political observers, because retention votes rarely stir the public or draw attention. Although many states have retention votes, judges often get three-quarters of the vote and are overshadowed by high-profile races. It is also common for voters to skip that part of the ballot altogether.
Chuck Hurley, president of Iowa Family Policy Council Action, which opposed the court’s decision, said he was pleased but “somewhat surprised” by the poll.
“I have grown accustomed over the last decades to seeing the judiciary retained in a 70 or 80 percent rate,” Hurley told Baptist Press. “… But they need to be held accountable and prevented from issuing similar rulings again. If not, you can expect more of the same behavior.”
The justices’ unanimous ruling in April 2009 made Iowa the first court outside the New England states or West Coast to legalize “gay marriage.” But it was no less radical. The court ruled that the “interests of children are served equally by same-sex parents and opposite-sex parents.” It also said the “traditional notion that children need a mother and a father” is “based more on stereotype than anything else.” The court argued that “gay and lesbian persons are capable of procreation” and that “equal protection can only be defined by the standards of each generation.”
The decision caught the eye of pastors across the state who saw the judges as taking a stance against morality and truth. Dan Wiersema, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, said the retention vote is a significant one for both Christians and non-Christians.
“I see a retention vote as an important means of redress when justices do not uphold the values of the people — in this case, justices going against the legislated definition of marriage as between one man and one woman,” Wiersema told Baptist Press. “I see this retention election focus as centered on a moral issue rather than a political issue. This moral issue should concern Christians regardless of their party affiliation. I encourage all Christians in Iowa who are eligible voters to go to the polls and vote your values.”
Hurley said the court “legislated” and amended the constitution — a process that is reserved for the people.
“We’re the only ones that have authority to amend our constitution,” Hurley said. “This is a usurpation of power that is breathtaking. It’s staggering. Those seven judges could do the same with gun rights or free speech or how parents can educate their children.”
Meanwhile, all 100 members of the House and 25 of the 50 members of the Senate are up for re-election. Democrats hold a 56-44 edge in the House and a 32-18 advantage in the Senate. The legislature is key to the “gay marriage” issue because any constitutional amendment overturning the ruling must originate there. Democratic leaders, though, have blocked an amendment from receiving a floor vote and have pledged to prevent it from getting on the ballot. In fact, when the ruling was handed down, Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal and House Speaker Pat Murphy issued a joint statement applauding it.
For an amendment to make it on the ballot, it must pass each chamber by a simple majority in two consecutive two-year sessions. The governor has no involvement.
Hurley said he is hopeful about an amendment’s chances should the Republicans win back the legislature. Every Republican House candidate, he said, pledged support for a marriage amendment. Similar support was sounded by the Senate GOP candidates.
The GOP is trying to win back the state legislature at a time when Democratic Gov. Chet Culver, who is unpopular in his own state, is running for re-election. Culver trails Republican nominee Terry Branstad by an average margin of 53-36 according to RealClearPolitics.com. The two men discussed the marriage issue during an Oct. 7 debate.
“We need to move forward,” Culver said, according to RadioIowa.com. “We do not need to add discrimination to our constitution, something that would only take us backwards on civil rights.”
Branstad disagreed with Culver’s characterization of the issue.
“The people of Iowa are the ones that should have the final say on this,” Branstad said. “They should be given the same opportunity as 31 other states and every state from Maine to California where it’s been on the ballot, the people have voted for it.”
The retention vote, Hurley said, is among the most important elections in the country this fall because it has the potential to “send a message to the out-of-control judiciary.” He asked that believers pray for Christians in Iowa to “wake up and get involved” — which he said is occurring.
“It’s been very gratifying,” he said.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. For information about the retention vote, visit IowaForFreedom.com.