ANKENY, IOWA | More than three years after the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of same-sex marriage, supporters of the decision say predictions of disaster have not been borne out, while gay-marriage opponents say they continue to lose ground in the fight because “finger-in-the-wind” Republicans have abandoned the cause.
The battle in the American heartland can be seen as a test case politically for the longer-term fallout as states across the country struggle with the gay-marriage issue. Utah and New Mexico in recent days became the latest states dealing with court rulings undercutting state statutes in favor of traditional marriage.
The Iowa court’s ruling in 2009 was seen as a watershed moment for the gay-rights movement and, looking back at it, some of the justices who were booted from the bench in an unprecedented “retention” campaign a year later say they are confident they came down on the right side of the law.
“Legally, there was no question in my mind which way we had to come out,” Justice David L. Baker told The Washington Times. “As far as regrets? No, that’s my job, and I did it, and I’m certainly not going to second-guess myself.”
The ruling, striking down a state law defining marriage as only between one man and one woman, landed the justices in hot water with social conservatives and religious groups across the nation, which accused them of legislating from the bench.
Since ousting Mr. Davis and two of his colleagues, opponents of same-sex marriage have faced the bleak reality that in order to overturn the decision they must pass an amendment to the Iowa Constitution — a high bar to clear given that it must be approved first by two consecutive sessions of the state Legislature before it is placed on the ballot for final voter approval.
The ruling, meanwhile, made Iowa the first state in the Midwest to legalize same-sex marriage and helped change the political dynamic in the state.
Indeed, Iowans voted last year to retain state Supreme Court Justice David S. Wiggins, who supported the ruling, and now is one of 18 states and the District of Columbia that recognize same-sex marriage.
Polls show more Americans support same-sex marriage and approve of the U.S. Supreme Court rulings that said the federal Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional and that the backers of California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage did not have standing to argue the case before the court — thus paving the way for same-sex marriage in the state. The court stopped short, however, of invalidating all the laws and constitutional statutes in the states against same-sex marriage.
The issue is dividing Republicans and has sparked a public family feud between former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughters — Liz, who opposes same-sex marriage and is running for a Senate seat in Wyoming, and Mary, who is gay and married to a woman.
Mr. Cheney was opposed to same-sex marriage when he served in the Bush administration, but he has since said the issue should be decided by states. That puts him on the same page as GOP Sens. Rand Paul of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, but in conflict with Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who backs a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
The Republican National Committee warned in its post-2012 election postmortem — called the Growth and Opportunity Project — that some young voters view the party as “totally intolerant of alternative points of view” because of opposition to same-sex unions.
“Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the party is a place they want to be,” the report said.
Top 10 issue?
A.J. Spiker, the Iowa state Republican Party chairman and a supporter of former Rep. Ron Paul, a longtime libertarian from Texas, said most young people don’t see marriage as a “top 10 or 20 issue.”