FAIRFIELD, Iowa -- On Tuesday, both sides in the nationwide debate over "gay marriage" will focus on three rural counties in southeast Iowa, where a special election for a state House seat could signal what voters think about the Iowa Supreme Court's controversial ruling.
The race for Iowa District 90 usually would go unnoticed if not for the fact that the high court issued its ruling in April legalizing "gay marriage" and for the fact that the Democratic-controlled legislature subsequently blocked attempts to place a constitutional marriage amendment on the ballot.
Tuesday's special election will decide who replaces Democratic Rep. John Whitaker, who resigned to become head of the Iowa State Farm Service Agency. The race in the Democratic-leaning district pits Democrat Curt Hanson against Republican Stephen Burgmeier.
The conservative National Organization for Marriage has endorsed Burgmeier and has bought $86,000 in TV and radio ads supporting his candidacy -- a significant buy for such a rural area. As a Jefferson County supervisor, Burgmeier proposed a resolution several months back that passed unanimously supporting a marriage amendment. He also has pledged to support an amendment if elected to the House.
The TV ad targets not Hanson but Democratic Gov. Chet Culver, whose approval rating was at 42 percent in a May SurveyUSA poll. He opposes a marriage amendment.
"When judges improperly imposed same-sex marriage on Iowa, we needed Gov. Culver and legislators to ensure the rights of voters were considered," the ad's narrator says. "Voters in 30 other states have voted on gay marriage. Yet Gov. Culver said he was reluctant to give Iowans that same right.... It's time legislators stood up for voters. Stephen Burgmeier supports giving Iowans a say on the gay marriage issue. Vote Stephen Burgmeier on Sept. 1."
Technically, Hanson also supports putting a marriage amendment on the ballot, but conservatives doubt his commitment, being that "gay marriage" groups have endorsed him and he hasn't stated whether he himself would vote for it if it were on the ballot. At an Aug. 25 debate that included the two major party candidates and two other candidates, Hanson was the only one that refused personally to say he would vote for it if it were on the ballot, the Ottumwa Courier reported. Additionally, Fairness Fund Political Action Committee, an Iowa homosexual activist group, has endorsed him and is working on the ground to get out the vote. In fact, Fairness Fund posted a message on its blog Thursday urging its constituents to help it raise $10,000 by midnight Friday so as to help counter the National Organization for Marriage ads.
The campaign to elect Burgmeier is the first step in the National Organization for Marriage's Reclaim Iowa Project to reverse the legislature's opposition to an amendment. An e-mail by organization executive director Brian S. Brown to supporters described it as a "multi-year campaign," a large part of which will include the 2010 state races. A July poll of 500 registered voters by Voter/Consumer Research suggested that 67 percent of voters support placing a marriage amendment on the ballot.
"Iowans overwhelmingly oppose same-sex marriage, but a handful of politicians are determined to block any effort to give the people of Iowa a say in the matter," he wrote.
Democratic Speaker Pat Murphy supports "gay marriage" and opposes letting a marriage amendment come up for a House vote. Many observers believe that if an amendment came up for a vote, it would pass. The same is true in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal also has blocked a vote. When the court handed down its decision Murphy and Gronstal issued a joint statement praising it.
District 90 includes all of Van Buren and large parts of Wapello and Jefferson counties.