By MIKE GLOVER
DES MOINES, Iowa – Don’t expect the volatile issue of gay rights to dominate the Legislature this year as it did last session, legislative leaders said.
Republican lawmakers said they still believe the Legislature should refer a proposed repeal of the state’s same-sex marriage law to voters, but with little chance of success on those issues they’re planning to focus on other matters.
“We’re not afraid to address those issues, but we’re also not interested in squandering Iowans’ time,” said House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, arguing that voters are more interested in jobs and the economy. “We have a job to do and we’re going to do it.”
With Republicans holding a 60-40 margin in the House and Democrats maintaining a 26-24 edge in the Senate, the political dynamic in the Legislature is unchanged from last year.
Legislators have argued about same-sex marriage since a unanimous 2009 Iowa Supreme Court ruling struck down a state law defining marriage as being between one man and one woman. Iowa is now one of six states where same-sex marriage is legal.
Although opponents of the ruling succeeded in removing three justices from the court who were up for retention votes, they haven’t been able to begin the multi-year process of referring a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to voters.
The House easily approved such a resolution last year, but Gronstal refused to allow debate and said he’d do the same this year.
“People’s rights should not be put to a popular vote,” Gronstal said. “We didn’t put slavery to a vote of the people in Iowa. We didn’t put the right to go to a school in your neighborhood to a vote of the people, and we didn’t put the public accommodations law to a vote of the people in Iowa.”
Conservatives said they are baffled by those who oppose letting Iowans decide on the issue.
“It’s about Iowans being allowed to vote,” said Behn. “It’s not so much an issue whether it’s a winner or loser politically. The idea, the concept, is should the debate be allowed?”
If lawmakers don’t act this year, the earliest the issue could go to voters would be 2016.
Paulsen said House Republicans are focused on jobs and the economy and don’t have time to take up gay marriage again if the measure has no chance in the Senate.
“Right now the primary focus of the caucus, make no mistake about it, is on jobs and the economy,” said Paulsen. “We passed a bipartisan resolution and sent it to the Senate. There’s no reason to call the same thing up and say we really, really mean it. We really meant it when we did it the first time.”