When U.S. voters are asked whether or not their state should retain its judges every two years, many aren't quite sure how to make their decisions. But a majority of Iowa voters knew exactly what they were doing, when they voted against retaining three of the state's Supreme Court justices on Nov. 2.
In April 2009, Justices David Baker, Michael Streit, and Chief Justice Marsha Ternus agreed with four other state justices in ruling that the Iowa state constitution's equal protection clause implied a right of same-sex couples to marry.
Their ruling overturned a 1998 state law specifying that “only a marriage between a male and a female is valid.” Suddenly, homosexual “marriage” was legal in Iowa.
This year, three of the deciding justices were up for retention or rejection by voters. As election day approached, organizations opposing the redefinition of marriage invested significant funding and energy to make Iowa voters aware that this year's judgment on judges was far from routine.
This time, it was the voters' turn to make a dramatic change. On Tuesday, Baker, Streit and Ternus became the first judges ousted by Iowa voters since 1962.
The vote does not end homosexual “marriage” in Iowa, a goal likely to require a constitutional amendment. But Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference told CNA that the election results signaled popular support for traditional marriage, and opened up possibilities for its legal defense.
Because it speaks for the state's bishops, the conference doesn't endorse candidates. Iowa's bishops called instead for a constitutional convention, where an amendment could have been proposed defining marriage as a union of one man and woman. The people of Iowa voted against holding the convention, with some social conservatives worrying a high-stakes assembly could turn against them.
For his part, however, Chapman was clearly satisfied with the non-retention campaign's outcome, and the prospects it heralded.
“Obviously, it was clear that the people of Iowa aren't buying into same-sex 'marriage',” he observed, also calling attention to a new Republican majority in the state House of Representatives. “Clearly, between the judges not being retained, and the changing control in the (legislative) chamber, we're in a better spot today than we were a few days ago.”
Although the conference does not associate with a political party, local Republican representatives have declared their intention to put forth a marriage amendment, while Democrats oppose the plan. That opposition, Chapman said, would make the passage of such an amendment difficult for the time being.
“You have to have it pass through both chambers, in two different sessions … While we think we'll be able to (pass a marriage amendment) through the House, we're going to have a tougher time in the Senate.” Although votes for Iowa's state Senate were still being recounted, Chapman expected Democrats to maintain control of that chamber.
Iowa's voters would also have to approve any change to the state constitution. Chapman said he believed the popular will for such a change was present, as was evident from the judges' defeat. He was hopeful, in the long run, for an amendment affirming traditional marriage.
“Iowa is not really any different than any other state,” he said. “If you put the question to the people, about marriage, they'll vote in favor of traditional marriage … Hopefully we can move it through the House, and hopefully that puts pressure on the Senate to try to move the bill.”
Commenting on the 2009 decision that abruptly changed Iowa's definition of marriage, Chapman said the decision was arbitrary, and seemed to reflect a political agenda rather than the state constitution's intended meaning. “The Supreme Court could have found the other way, if they had wanted to,” he said.
The relevant section of the state constitution said the legislature could not “grant to any citizen or class of citizens, privileges or immunities which, upon the same terms shall not equally belong to all citizens.” That statement, however, was made to explain the prior declaration that “all laws of a general nature shall have a uniform operation” – meaning not that all people had the same privileges, but only that no individual or group could be given the privilege of legal immunity.
Chapman reflected that Iowa citizens were holding their judges responsible for an act of “social engineering.” But he made clear that the effort to strengthen marriage, as the “fundamental building block for society,” would involve much more than just defending against efforts at any redefinition.
“Regardless of whether you have same-sex 'marriage' or not, we know (traditional) marriage itself is in a lot of trouble,” he said. “Family life is in a lot of trouble.”
Chapman called attention to the full range of Catholic social teaching – which takes the protection of family life as the first principle, in its broader vision of the common good.
“All the policies we should have,” he pointed out, “should support the family.”