Two state legislators from the Iowa Quad-Cities are among a handful of Republicans seeking to turn back the clock on same-sex marriage in Iowa.
State Reps. Luana Stoltenberg, R-Davenport, and Mark Cisneros, R-Muscatine have joined six other legislators in introducing a resolution this week to amend the state constitution to only recognize marriage as a union between a man and woman.
In part, the resolution reads: “In accordance with the laws of nature and nature’s God, the state of Iowa recognizes the definition of marriage to be the solemnized union between one human biological male and one human biological female.”
Same-sex marriage has been legal in Iowa since 2009, when the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously in the Varnum v. Brien case.
Nationwide, the US Supreme Court legalized marriage equality in 2015 in the Obergefell decision.
The Iowa resolution, which is drawing national attention, was introduced Tuesday. If approved, the Legislature will have to pass it again in 2025 or 2026 before it would go to the public for a vote.
Marriage equality advocates have criticized the measure.
This is the latest move in the legislature to steer state policy so that it’s more in line with the thinking of conservative Christians. However, as Axios noted, a majority of Iowans supported same-sex marriage in a 2014 poll, and that support probably has grown. A 2014 Pew Research Center poll said 51% of Iowans supported same-sex marriage, while 41% opposed it; and last year, a nationwide Gallup poll said support for same-sex marriage, at 71%, was higher than ever.
Since the 2015 Obergefell decision, NBC News reported, there have been relatively few bills around the country that aim to ban or restrict same-sex marriage, and Anthony Kreis, a professor at Georgia State University College of Law, told the network in an email “this is the kind of legislative proposal designed to create a buzz and generate attention.”
That may be true. But we’ve also seen how the state legislature in Iowa has undergone a radical shift in the past few years – and the US Supreme Court’s 6-3 conservative majority has made clear it doesn’t mind being more activist, either. Justice Clarence Thomas even said in a concurring opinion last year that the court should reconsider the Obergefell decision, among others.
Given all this, to shrug off proposals like this new resolution would be a mistake.
In 2010, a year after the Varnum decision, it seemed inconceivable to many Iowans that a move to oust three of the seven state Supreme Court justices in a retention election could succeed just because of one controversial case. Yet, that is exactly what happened.
Significant out-of-state support, an inattentive media, a determined conservative Christian voting bloc and a Republican electoral wave overall narrowly won the day because Iowans weren’t sufficiently on guard to defend the independence of the judiciary and the rights of all Iowans to equal treatment. It’s a lesson worth remembering.
STB on the clock
Many of those who are watching the deliberations concerning the proposed Canadian Pacific/Kansas City Southern railroad merger expected the federal Surface Transportation Board to issue a final decision within 30 days after the final Environmental Impact Statement was issued.
Well, the 30 days has come and gone, and as of Wednesday afternoon, there still was no decision from the STB.
That doesn’t mean one won’t be coming soon, but the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, may well be complicating STB’s deliberations.
The derailment and the subsequent publicity have significantly raised the issue of rail safety in the US, and it stands to reason that STB commissioners are paying attention, too.
The CP/KCS merger will increase the amount of train traffic running through a lot of American communities – including the Iowa Quad-Cities – and even before the Ohio accident, critics of the plan worried about the potential for accidents.
Now, the monthlong coverage of the derailment, with its toxic spill and worries that the public health has been compromised, certainly has put the railroad industry – and its regulators, too – on the hotseat.
To be clear, the final Environmental Impact Statement on the CP/KCS merger said the number of hazardous materials releases would “remain low” if the proposal was approved.
Still, that hasn’t stopped four Illinois lawmakers from citing the derailment in Ohio while calling for the STB to delay a decision on the merger.
“CP and KCS both have histories of train derailments causing hazardous material spills, and any increases in the amount of hazardous materials transported as a result of the proposed merger would put communities across the country at greater risk of a dangerous incident,” the lawmakers said in a letter to the STB a week ago.
(A CP spokesman said last month the railroad is required to transport hazardous materials as part of common carrier obligations in compliance with safety and environmental regulations, according to an article in the Quad-City Times, and that it has the “lowest train-accident frequency rate” in North America.)
Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth were among those who sent the letter to the STB.
A week earlier, in a separate letter to the agency, the lawmakers also faulted the Environmental Impact Statement for relying on Canadian Pacific’s projections of increased freight traffic. They pointed out that the commuter rail operator Metra projected a bigger increase in traffic in the Chicago area as a result of the merger and requested an independent analysis.
As far as I can tell, Iowa’s congressional delegation hasn’t been all that active publicly on this issue, even though the EIS says there will be “unavoidable adverse noise impacts” resulting from the merger. Much of that impact will be felt in the Quad-Cities.
This probably isn’t surprising. The larger local governments in the Iowa Quad-City area – Davenport, Bettendorf and Muscatine, for example – agreed not to oppose the merger in exchange for cash payments to mitigate the noise impacts. Some smaller communities, as well as the Scott County Board of Supervisors, have opposed the merger, but the opposition from Iowa’s political leaders isn’t nearly as vigorous as it is in Illinois.
Federal law says the STB must approve a merger if it is “consistent with the public interest.”
Perhaps it’s because the EIS said safety concerns aren’t a major concern in this case, but my impression is the debate over this merger has mostly centered on questions about competition, rather than other factors. Concerns about noise impacts appear to rank further down the list.
Still, for those who are worried about the additional trains and what they’re carrying, especially as they are watching what’s been happening in East Palestine, Ohio, safety concerns are no doubt at the top of their priority list.
I wonder, too, if they are now increasingly on the minds of STB commissioners as well.
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Please keep the disastrous consequences of this train merger front and center as the most impactful factor of our future way of life. Keep writing those letters to fed reps and STB. One catastrophic release to our River and our source of drinking water is gone, ecosystems and habitats wiped out and property values plummet. Think of the $millions just spent on the Higgins eye mussel around the Bridge piers. All that public tax money spent to preserve one endangered species, and one spill to the River will wipe out Billions of past investment.