Iowa Senate vote could re-spark gay marriage issue

BY MAX FREUND | OCTOBER 13, 2011 7:20 AM

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Local groups are worried that, in Iowa, the right to legally express the love that binds two people is at risk of being broken.

Democrats in Iowa — a state that legalized same-sex marriage in 2009 in a state Supreme Court decision — have been losing control of the Senate, with their numbers dropping from 27-22 to 26-24 in the November 2010 elections. After Sen. Swati Dandekar, D-Marion, announced in September that she was resigning, Democrats are at risk of losing control completely.

"If this does happen, if we were to lose that race, certainly it makes the chances of us seeing a Constitutional amendment passed through the Senate much more likely," said Troy Price, the executive director of One Iowa, the state's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy group. "And should that happen, if it is able to pass in the next legislative session, as early as June 2013 you could see it on the ballot."

The open seat in District 18 — which is almost evenly split between registered Republicans and Democrats — is going to go to either Democrat Liz Mathis or Republican Cindy Golding.

Don McDowell, a Golding spokesman, would not specify whether the candidate was for or against gay marriage but did say she wants Iowans to have a voice on the matter.

"I think we saw last November Iowans were very frustrated they hadn't had a chance to weigh in," he said, referring to the ousting of three Iowa Supreme Court justices. "[Golding] believes fundamentally Iowans should be the final arbiters; she would vote to give Iowans a chance to have a say."

In February, the Iowa House passed House Joint Resolution 6, 62-37, a Constitutional amendment to overturn the court's decision on same-sex marriage. The bill would need to pass through two joint sessions of the Legislature before being placed on the ballot.

While Mathis could not be reached for comment, state Democratic leaders said they are confident they can hold the seat and remain strong in their support of same-sex equality.

"The party's job is to elect Democrats. We are prepared," said Sam Roecker, the communication director for the Iowa Democratic Party. "The whole issue of equality is something Democrats have been focused on and taking the lead that no one is discriminated on because of sex orientation."

Iowa Democrats are receiving an endorsement from what may seem like an unlikely source, Republican presidential-nomination hopeful Fred Karger.

"I have been a supporter of [Iowa Democratic Sen. Mike] Gronstal because of his heroic stance on marriage," Karger said. "So I call myself an independent Republican. I have supported Republicans and Democrats."

Karger is openly gay, and he has been a staple in politics for more than 30 years. But this presidential campaign marks the first time for him to run for office. And while he is vying for the Republican nomination, he said he ultimately sides with the Democrats in the Iowa Senate race.

"I think it is important that the Senate remains in Democrat control, because of the marriage issue," he said. "I hate to be a single-issue voter like that, but I think it is very important that balance is there."

While Iowa Democrats seem committed to fighting for social equality, LGBT community members fear the effect of overturning same-sex marriage.

"It is definitely an issue that is going to plague us and could affect the shape of the United States," said Preston Keith, the manager of the UI's LGBT house. "People come to Iowa for marriage, for equal rights. The fact they could take that away is detrimental to the state and LGBT communities in general."

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