DES MOINES — Iowa senators, on a party-line vote, today blocked an effort by proponents of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages in Iowa to force the issue to be debated.
All 26 Senate Democrats opposed an appeal lodged by Sen. Kent Sorenson, R-Indianola, that attempted to overrule Senate President Jack Kibbie’s ruling that the call for debating Senate Joint Resolution 8 was procedurally out of order and not eligible for immediate Senate consideration. Sorenson and 23 other minority GOP senators voted in favor of overruling Kibbie, marking a rare occurrence in the Senate and one that some argued ran counter to the chamber’s history and tradition.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said he appreciated that minority Republicans were frustrated by an inability to force a debate similar to the way minority Democrats tried unsuccessfully for a decade to bring a proposed increase in the state’s minimum wage before the Senate when Republicans controlled the Senate.
“Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures,” countered Sen. Merlin Bartz, R-Grafton, in arguing that it was majority Democrats who were attempting to use procedural barriers to thwart the effort to pass a resolution calling for a referendum on a constitutional ban of same-sex marriage.
“What you have in front of you is absolutely consistent with past practice,” Gronstal countered. He cited past situations in which resolutions have been employed through committees in the House and Senate to bypass procedural barriers, but minority Republicans were trying to short-circuit that route in the current situation. He said would render the role of committee chair leaders meaningless.
Gronstal noted that Thursday’s 24-26 vote was not to bring the marriage resolution to the floor for debate, but he suspected forces opposed to same-sex marriages would try to cast it that way for political purposes.
“These are pretty arcane discussions. People can characterize the votes however inaccurately they want to,” he said.
Danny Carroll of the Family Leader said Thursday’s vote was a vote on the marriage issue.
“The Senate had a very clear opportunity to consider Senate Joint Resolution 8 this morning,” he said. “Sen. Sorenson asked for unanimous consent to consider that, and he was denied that by the Senate Democrats.”
Carroll added that he suspected this would not be the last time pro-marriage amendment forces would attempt to bring the issue before the Senate for a direct vote this session.
“I would assume that,” he said. “The people of Iowa continue to be very disturbed. They feel like their voice is not being heard. It’s not being heard at the ballot box on a constitutional amendment, and it’s not being heard in the Senate by the Senate majority party.”
Majority Republicans in the Iowa House have indicated they expect to approve the marriage resolution and send it to the Senate for consideration. For constitutional amendments to come before a vote of the people, both the House and Senate must pass the exact same language in two consecutive general assemblies, which would mean the earliest the matter could come before voters would be in the 2014 election unless it was handled by a special election.
The constitutional amendment would undo an April 2009 Iowa Supreme Court decision that ruled a state law unconstitutional that defined marriage as only between one man and one woman. That paved the way for marriages between couples of the same gender in Iowa.