Blue: Republican crusade for legislative discrimination continues

Brandon Blue

As a registered Republican, I am disturbed.

I’m disturbed that three newly elected Republicans in the Iowa Statehouse would even consider impeaching the last four-sevenths of the Supreme Court. Representatives Tom Shaw, Glen Massie and Kim Pearson are currently drafting articles of impeachment against remaining Justices Brent Appel, Mark Cady, Daryl Hecht and David Wiggins.

I’m disturbed that Iowa’s House Speaker, Republican Kraig Paulsen, has gone on record claiming that, if Iowans want impeachment, he will do nothing to defend reason, but will instead step aside.

And I’m disturbed that, three months after the mid-term elections, here we are still talking about Bob Vander Plaats, still letting him and Iowa for Freedom rent space in our heads. His impeachment talk back in December has carried into the New Year in the hearts and minds of at least the afore-mentioned representatives, and it is definable in no other terms but “disturbing.”

Let me be clear: Impeachment would be almost comically hypocritical, as past president of the Iowa State Bar Association Dan Moore points out, given that impeachment is only possible if a justice has committed a crime or “engaged in malfeasance.” An unpopular ruling is neither of those things.

If, as these Republican representatives claim, the courts overstepped their bounds in declaring a same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, you can be certain the legislature would be overstepping its bounds by impeaching the other four Justices without any crime or wrongful conduct to justify it.

One hears it said in Republican circles (mainly in reference to legislative choices by the 111th Congress) that the elites or, in this context the supporters of the Varnum decision, believe the electorate too stupid to understand the issue at hand.

Sadly, in this case it seems true; the electorate may well have been uninformed when they voted “no” on retention. We’ll never know what the results would’ve been had they better coverage, better explanations and less emotions.

To be fair, while Vander Plaats has never offered a parallel interpretation of the Iowa Constitution than that which the Supreme Court offered, the media’s coverage by and large was little other than outrage that anyone would abuse the retention process, rather than a levelheaded refutation of Iowa for Freedom’s arguments.

Justifying the court’s decision isn’t difficult, but requires a little historical context.

In late 2007 six same-sex couples filed suit against Polk County recorder Timothy Brien, who followed Iowa Code section 595.2(1), which states that “[o]nly a marriage between a male and a female is valid,” when he refused them marriage licenses.

In Varnum v. Brien, Judge Robert Hanson of the Polk County District Court found that section of the Iowa Code and, by extension, Brien’s actions to be in violation of the Iowa Constitution’s promise of equal protection under the law.

Polk County Attorney John Sarcone then appealed the case to the Iowa Supreme Court, and Judge Hanson’s ruling was temporarily stayed. Before the stay, two Iowa State University students, Sean Fritz and Tim McQuillan, were able to marry.

In early 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the Polk County District Court’s ruling with its 69-page unanimous decision. Same-sex marriage is now legal in the state of Iowa.

All that the Iowa Supreme Court decided in upholding Varnum v. Brien was that same-sex couples are just as worthy of civil marriage as opposite-sex couples because the government has no, in their words, “constitutionally sufficient justification” for withholding such liberties from them. Religious marriage was and is left for religious denominations to define as they see fit.

At no point did the Iowa Supreme court dictate that churches were required to marry gay couples. It only points out, as stated above, that the state will recognize same-sex marriages as it does opposite-sex ones.

For opponents of same-sex marriage, a constitutional amendment is the only way to overturn the 2009 ruling. Voters declined last year’s opportunity for a constitutional convention to amend the Iowa constitution to define marriage as a union exclusively between a man and a woman. The only other way to amend the constitution is to pass an amendment with a simple majority in both of Iowa’s houses in two consecutive general assemblies, and then to allow Iowans to vote on it in a general election. As arduous as it is confusing, that process won’t be happening any time soon.

The very idea of impeaching justices is ridiculous, but railing against Vander Plaats in the paper as Dan Moore has, calling him obsessed and linking his craziness to conservatives, does nothing to further any cause. Ignoring Vander Plaats and Iowa for Freedom is the best option for the junior representatives in the Statehouse, who must at this point focus on the economy and job creation.

Iowa for Freedom and its supporters must understand that the government is bound to no specific religious doctrine, and as such recognizes the validity of both opposite and same-sex marriage, while allowing religious institutions to define marriage as they choose. This is the way it ought to be.

This is equality.