LAST MONTH'S COURT VICTORY by gay marriage proponents may actually turn into a long-term plus for Iowa Republicans.
On August 30, a Polk County District Court judge ruled that Iowa’s prohibition of same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. In his sixty-three page ruling, Judge Robert Hanson opened the door for gay and lesbian couples but may have opened a Pandora’s Box of problems for the majority Democrats in the Iowa legislature.
The lawsuit was brought by a collection of gay activists against the county for its refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Included in the opinion was a finding that homosexuality is a “normal” expression of human sexuality, and that “marriage has evolved over time” and “is virtually unrecognizable from its earlier common law counterpart” due to changes in family and divorce (specifically no-fault divorce) laws.
Hanson concluded that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage “is not rationally related to a legitimate government interest.” The next day he stayed the effect of his decision pending an appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.
Republican state legislators immediately called for a state constitutional amendment protecting traditional marriage. Democrats, who had earlier blocked such an amendment, said the legislature should wait until the Supreme Court rules, which could take until 2009.
Traditional marriage has strong support in Iowa. Democrats, on the other hand, have only recently taken control of the statehouse with many new members who have tenuous holds on their districts
Combine that with the other missteps, including the Democrats’ effort to repeal the central provisions of Iowa’s Right to Work Law, considered sacred with chambers of commerce and agricultural interests across the state, and the issue could spell doom for enough one-term incumbents to turn the House back to GOP control.
But the issue may even reach into the presidential race. Marriage is a red meat issue with social conservatives who have felt shut out of the state’s Republican caucuses because of their dissatisfaction with the top-tier candidates.
However, one campaign has started to emerge as a possible rallying point for social conservatives. While former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was spending a fortune in campaign cash to win the Ames GOP straw poll, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who spent almost nothing, surprised observers with a second place finish.
That was followed two weeks later with a TV straw poll done at the Iowa State Fair. Romney took 36% of the GOP vote, but Huckabee again came in second with 17%, besting former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani who had 14% and Huckabee’s major social conservative rival, Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback who had only 4%.
The straw polls may not ordinarily seem too important. However, these may indicate that social conservatives may be beginning to coalesce behind Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister who has been getting high marks for his debate performances.
Throw into the mix a dubious court ruling that traditional marriage is not rationally related to any governmental interest, ineptness by state Democrats, and you could have the stage set for an interesting political boomerang.