DES MOINES - Same-sex marriage might be here to stay in Iowa.
Iowa voters decided Tuesday to retain a state Supreme Court justice who participated in the landmark 2009 ruling that made Iowa the first Midwestern state to allow gay marriage, trumping a conservative campaign to oust him. And they rejected the Republican Party's bid to take control of the Iowa Senate, where conservatives hoped to pass a constitutional amendment asking voters to limit marriage rights to unions between one man and one woman.
Instead, Iowans re-elected Democratic Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal of Council Bluffs, who has blocked debate of that amendment for three years. He has repeatedly said he would not allow debate on a measure that would enshrine discrimination in the Iowa Constitution, a stand that put his 30-year career on the line.
Republicans and social conservatives targeted Gronstal in the hopes of removing that roadblock on Tuesday, but Gronstal easily won re-election with 55 percent of the vote. And Gronstal announced early Wednesday that he believed Democrats would keep their slim majority in the Iowa Senate, picking up the 26 seats they need to continue running the chamber.
All told, Tuesday fortified Iowa's status as one of the earliest states to adopt gay marriage - one where the right to wed for gays and lesbians is not likely to end soon.
"There is no doubt in my mind that we have turned a corner on this issue," said Molly Tafoya, spokeswoman for One Iowa, the state's leading gay rights group. She said opponents of gay marriage would be unlikely to block the practice in the near future - but stopped short of declaring it safe.
"Our opponents are well-funded, likely very, very mad today and I imagine that they are going to dust themselves off and take a look at where they can try to influence this issue," she said.
Greg Baker, political director for the Family Leader, a group that led unsuccessful campaigns to remove Justice David Wiggins and elect a Republican Senate majority, conceded that attempts to ban gay marriage were likely dead for the next two years. A constitutional amendment takes passage in two consecutive legislative sessions, and then approval from voters in a statewide referendum.