Gay marriage foe announces its next big target: Iowa

One of the groups behind California's Proposition 8 said this week that it will seek to ban same-sex marriage in the state through a referendum. The state Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in April.

Liz Martin/ The Gazette/ AP/ File
Activists wave flags before the start of a rally in Iowa City celebrating Iowa Supreme Court ruling upholding a lower court decision legalizing same sex marriage, April 3.

One of the country’s leading groups against gay marriage has announced its intention to lead a revolt against same-sex marriage in Iowa.

Its goal is to put a referendum on the state ballot to overturn the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision this April that legalized marriages between same-sex couples.

The issue would most likely not come to a vote for another two years. But the decision instantly makes Iowa a central front in the battle to either curtail or expand gay marriage.

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which is leading the effort in Iowa, says similar constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage have passed in 30 states – every state in which the question was put to voters. Now, the first Midwestern state to legalize gay marriage will be a test of that streak.

“Whenever we can go directly to the people, we’re confident that we can win,” says Brian Brown, executive director of NOM.

NOM's push to overturn gay marriages in Iowa – which the group is calling the Reclaim Iowa Project – is part of larger national effort to "intervene not just in legislative debates, but also in key races across the country where a handful of house or senate seats could make the difference between whether a same-sex marriage bill or state marriage amendment passes or fails," the group said in a statement.

This week, NOM began a $100,000 television and radio ad campaign in support of Stephen Burgmeier, a Republican and vocal opponent of gay marriage, who is running in a Sept. 1 special election for a seat in the Iowa House.

The importance that NOM is placing on that vote – to replace someone who accepted an Obama administration job – is indicative of how important the legislature will be to NOM’s effort. Proposals for amendments must pass the legislature twice before Iowans have their say.

“The battle in Iowa is a legislative battle now,” says Brown.

Gay marriage opponents want more Republicans in Des Moines in order to push through plans for a marriage referendum.

Meanwhile, gay rights groups are urging their supporters back the Democrat, Curt Hanson, and gearing up for plans to defend April's Supreme Court ruling.

“It’s something we expected,” says Justin Uebelhor, communications director for One Iowa, a leading gay rights group in the state. “There’s a really good chance that Republicans will push this through the legislature next year.”

If there is a referendum, the issue would be central to Iowa's upcoming gubernatorial race, too, since it would take at least two years to put the question to voters.

The fight could have ripple effects across the country.

When the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that a statute limiting civil marriages to heterosexual couples violated the Iowa constitution, it was a major victory for gay-marriage advocates. It brought same-sex marriage to the heartland and soon thereafter three other states – Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire – legalized gay marriages.

Six states now allow same-sex marriage.

But where gay-rights groups see success, organizations like NOM see courts and legislatures making decisions counter to most Americans' values.

NOM was one of the main backers of Proposition 8 in California, which banned gay marriage after the state Supreme Court legalized those marriages. Earlier this year, that same court upheld the voter-approved initiative.

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