So much is happening--in Rhode Island, Maryland, Wyoming, and even New Mexico, where a bill to block recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriage was introduced.
But the heart of the marriage debate this week moved to Iowa.
The Iowa House voted overwhelmingly (62 to 37!) to refer the question of marriage to the people of Iowa--to give Iowa citizens the right to decide whether or not gay marriage should be part of Iowa's constitution.
And also this week, over in the Iowa Senate one man--one man!--vowed to stand between Iowans and the voting booth: Senate majority leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs).
More on that part later.
Let's go first to where the debate started: with the people of Iowa.
Iowans, on the eve of a humongous snowstorm that has shut down half the country, thronged the House hearing room, eager to at last be heard.
Iowa is a thoughtful place, full of Midwestern good will, civic virtue, and common sense.
I was proud to be an American, listening to these extraordinary, ordinary citizens speak up for marriage. You can watch part of the debate the video here. (Warning, an “F word” is used by a gay-marriage supporter.)
Karen Mogenhan, a Montrose resident: “When gay marriage rights clash into religious rights, the courts lean towards the former. As [this] shows, this issue is bigger than two people who love each other and want to express that love, and who receive the benefits of legally-sanctioned marriage. It will filter into all aspects of our lives, school, business, medicine, religious-based groups' activities and church. At what point do I say, 'Enough, it is my rights that are under siege?' In a battle of religious rights with gay marriage rights, it is the rights of a free society that will ultimately pay the price.”
Jen Green: “Several of you may have to choose between party loyalty and your personal beliefs; please vote to pass [the bill], and take the first step to allowing Iowans our [given] right to vote on a marriage amendment. We will thank you for it.”
The legislative debate was similarly thoughtful, and unusually articulate:
Rep. Rich Anderson, a lawyer who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, points out: “The reason we try to protect marriage because we want to protect something called responsible procreation.We want to drive procreation into a stable relationship and procreation only happens between a male and a female. See, a male and a female can do something that a homosexual couple cannot: They can create children accidentally. That's the issue. It's not about love. It's not about romance. It’s about driving state policy toward responsible procreation.”
He was pointing to what Maggie Gallagher has called the “public purposes” of marriage, the reason we have laws about marriage, what the heart of the institution is--not the reason two people privately wish to marry, which can vary a great deal from couple to couple.
There were, of course, thoughtful, reasoned and moving speeches on both sides. (A college student named Zach spoke up to defend the honor of his mother(s)--something I can appreciate even though I disagree with his understanding of marriage.)
But there was also this strange tenor of blame--very dark, very angry and very emotional aspersions cast on the good name of the people of Iowa by those who support gay marriage.
Even I, who've heard pretty much everything at this point, was a little shocked to hear one gay marriage supporter say:
“It would be less harmful to me if you would just beat me up in a dark alley. It would be less hurtful to me if you would just spray paint the word f----t on my garage door. Nothing you could do to me physically would be more hurtful to me than the action you are proposing to take with this resolution.”
If you and I disagree with him about marriage, we are hurting him as much as--more than--if we insulted and beat him?
I know too many of our fellow citizens and neighbors who support gay marriage have reached a similar boiling point of emotion-driven unreasonableness. And I want to, on the one hand, give them a big hug or something to make them feel better.
And on the other I want to say: By being unable to distinguish between hatred (not to mention physical attack!) and moral disagreement you are doing a truly grave disservice--not only to your fellow Americans who disagree with you, but to all (especially gay folks) who are truly threatened by actual hatred and physical threat.
At some point we have to take responsibility not only for our own positions and choices, but for our own emotions--for how we choose to respond, emotionally, to the fact that people we know disagree with us on deeply-held moral beliefs.
It seems like a pretty elemental lesson for living in a pluralistic, free and democratic society, but one which, increasingly, liberalism as a culture seems to lack the internal resource to sustain in practice.
It's less surprising, of course, to hear undisciplined emotional rhetoric come from ordinary citizens. It's rather more shocking to hear this same theme carry over into the legislative debate. Rep. Phyllis Thede, (D-Bettendorf ) indicted the majority of her fellow citizens--accused, indicted and convicted them of “initiating hatred”:
“All of you here are in some way initiating hatred. That is not your intention but you're initiating it. The one thing that Jesus Christ has taught me to do is to love. To love all people. It doesn’t matter who they are, we are to love everyone.”
(Note to ACLU: religious motivation alert!)
See, according to Rep. Thede, if you disagree with someone's view of marriage, you are inciting hatred. Oh, unless the view you disagree with is the view of the majority of the people, that to make a marriage you need a husband and a wife--in that case you aren't inciting hatred by accusing them of inciting hatred, bigotry and discrimination.
This is the contorted view of too many good people on the other side of this debate at this point in history, including, sadly, the majority leader of the Iowa Senate, Mike Gronstal.
After a reasoned debate, an overwhelming majority of the House voted to give to the people of Iowa the right to decide the question of gay marriage.
And how did Mike Gronstal respond? “I cannot cooperate in taking away the rights of a significant number of Iowans,” he sententiously intoned, as he vowed to take away from every Iowa citizen the right to vote for marriage.
Talk about a lack of self-reflection. If it were possible to imagine a paper in Des Moines like the New York Post (impossible to picture such a snarky delight in good-natured, responsible Iowa), the headline would read:
“Mike Gronstal to Iowa Voters: Drop Dead!”
Just a bunch of bigots, the voters of Iowa.
The amazing thing is how very close Rep. Gronstal comes to saying just that, in barely-veiled terms.
Gronstal vows to prevent a vote on a marriage amendment because he says it's not about him: “It's about a significant portion of the citizens of this state that some people say shouldn't have the same rights that everybody else does,” he said.
In other words, it's about you: You will vote wrong because of your wrong values, your ugly motives, your illlegitimate vision for marriage.
It's rare for an elected official to describe (even implicitly) the citizens of his own state in such dark terms.
Perhaps Mike Gronstal could take a lesson from California Gov. Jerry Brown, who this week used the stirring spectacle of crowds demanding the ouster of a dictator to declare, "When democratic ideals and calls for the right to vote are stirring the imagination of young people in Egypt and Tunisia and other parts of the world, we in California can't say now is the time to block a vote of the people.”
Oh, you mean that Jerry Brown, who's now in federal court trying to block review of Judge Walker's decision which took away the votes of 7 million Californians?? Gov. Moonbeam strikes again!
I hereby nominate Mike Gronstal and Jerry Brown for the Contortionist of the Year Award--a coveted honor among politicians, for which there is fierce competition. (As a former yoga enthusiast, Brown may have an unfair edge.)
Right now the most important thing the people of Iowa can do to reclaim their rights and their government is to put pressure on Mike Gronstal--and the Democrats who named him their leader, especially these four Democrats who say publicly they would vote for a marriage amendment if given the chance:
Senate President Jack Kibbie of Emmetsburg, Tom Hancock of Epworth, Dennis Black of Grinnell and Joe Seng of Davenport.
Speaking of contortions, check out this cheery headline: “Recent decisions amount to a dressing down for 9th Circuit,” in the Washington Post.
The Ninth Circuit is of course the appellate court now hearing the case about the constitutionality of Prop 8. And it appears the Supreme Court is getting increasingly frustrated with the Ninth Circuit:
“Sometimes the Supreme Court simply decides cases and sometimes it seems to have something bigger in mind. In the past two weeks, it has been in scold mode, and its target has been the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
“In five straight cases, the court has rejected the work of the San Francisco-based court without a single affirmative vote from a justice. ...As the most liberal circuit in the land, its work quite often is at odds with an increasingly conservative Supreme Court.
“But some of the recent reversals have been delivered with a lash that those who closely watch the courts say reflects more than just a disagreement of law.”
As Debra Saunders, a columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle, put it:
“Followers of the Ninth Circuit are painfully aware of its reputation as an activist court that flouts laws it doesn't like and bulldozes rulings that defy its left-leaning politics. The San Francisco-based judicial district serves as a textbook example of how judges should not behave. …
“It's odd. When there is an opening on the Supreme Court, the Senate examines in detail whether nominees have the proper respect for past Supreme Court rulings. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is quite particular on that score. But in San Francisco, the Ninth Circuit doesn't seem to care what the U.S. Supreme Court writes.”
I know not every single person who reads this letter is a religious person. But don't you agree that sometimes it's hard NOT to see the hand of God in all this?
Think about Iowa, ground zero in the fight for marriage. A great state in its own right. But also the very first state in the presidential nominating process. And the next state? New Hampshire, also a state where public resentment over gay marriage is brewing.
Now, I'm not making any endorsements here and there are a lot of great people out there contending for the GOP nomination. Time will reveal how committed each one of them is to the things we hold dear, as well as how suited each is to run the gauntlet candidates must run.
But I did want to note two developments in this regard, both of which underscore the importance of Iowa and New Hampshire voters in the presidential process.
On the one hand, no less erudite a conservative than George Will touted “Rick Santorum's Appeal to the GOP Base”--the same week the Governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels, renewed his call for a “truce” on social issues, like life and marriage.
Daniels says our fiscal problems are so big that on the social issues we should... do what exactly?
Here's what I would say to Mitch and other good folks who are thinking like him: A self-declared truce by only one side in an ongoing moral battle involving great national questions like the meaning of human life and the nature of marriage--that's not a truce at all, it is abject surrender.
I know Mitch Daniels is a good man, with a strong pro-life voting record. (His record on marriage is less clear at this point.) But I wonder how well pushing the “mute” button is going to work for him in a state like Iowa, where people understand all too well which rights they are being asked to surrender.
Let me give the last word in this week's letter to an Iowan I never met, a man named Mark Dolan, who testified at the House.
“The legislature has been heard, the governor has been heard and the judges have been heard. But when will Iowans have a chance to be heard?” asked Mark Doland.
To give them and all other Americans a chance for their values and their voices to not only be heard, but to matter--to not only persist, but to prevail--that is the cause for which we fight.
Thank you for your courage and your decency, for being my colleague, my comrade--and my friend.
Brian S. Brown,
National Organization for Marriage
P.S. With the new radio ad in Rhode Island, and marriage fights in Maryland, Iowa, and elsewhere, we could really use your help this week. Thank you for all you do. Please keep reading and know we appreciate your support even if you are not in a position to give. But if you can afford to give, can you donate $20.11 to fight for marriage in 2011? I promise to faithfully steward any gift you make, from $5 to $500. Each penny is a precious testament to your willingness to stand for God's truth about marriage, and I thank you for it.