Iowa Senator changes view, opposes banning same-sex marriage
Harkin opposes any effort to overturn ruling last month
Published Thursday, 14-May-2009 in issue 1116
JOHNSTON, Iowa (AP) – U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin said May 8, he’s changed his views on same-sex marriage and would oppose any effort to overturn an Iowa Supreme Court decision last month that legalized same-sex unions.
“We all grow as we get older; we learn things, we become more sensitive to people and people’s lives,” said Harkin. “The more I’ve looked at that, I’ve grown to think differently about how we should live. I guess I’ve got to the point of live and let live.”
Harkin acknowledged his views represent a shift for someone who voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1998, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman.
The Iowa Supreme Court struck down a similar state law on April 3, and many Republicans have called for giving voters the chance to amend the state’s constitution to overturn the court’s decision.
“I would vote against it,” said Harkin, asked how he would vote if the matter was put on the ballot.
Harkin made his comments during a taping of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program.
The Cumming Democrat said the state has a history of being on the forefront on civil rights, including a ban on slavery decades before the Civil War and the outlawing of school segregation a century before the U.S. Supreme Court took the same step.
“I’m sure all those were controversial issues,” said Harkin. “Iowa has been at the forefront of extending civil rights to people, and this again is just another step in that march we’ve had in Iowa. Now you see a lot of other states falling in line.”
Conservatives have vowed to make next year’s election a referendum on same-sex marriage, but Harkin dismissed that suggestion.
“I think that like a lot of these earlier things that happened, in a couple of years people will look back and say what was the fuss about,” said Harkin.
Harkin said more basic concerns will drive voters next year.
“I think in 2010, the election will hinge on the economy, health care reform, what we’re doing in energy and whether families are doing better,” said Harkin. “It’s not going to have to do one whit with gay marriage.”
Harkin acknowledged some will try to keep attention on the issue, but he argued voter interest would fade.
“There are always going to be some who feel they have to push this issue for whatever reason. They’re going to try to push, try to divide people,” he said. “They are on the losing end. They are on the losing end of history.”
Asked about the future of Iowa’s presidential precinct caucuses, Harkin predicted Iowa would hold onto its leadoff role in the nominating process. Attention in the next presidential election cycle will likely be on the Republican contest, since Democratic President Barack Obama will face little if any opposition for his party’s nomination.
“I can assure you that Iowa will be first in 2012. It’s the next one, 2016, that we have to be concerned about,” Harkin said.
One danger facing the caucuses is the increasing conservative character of the state’s Republican Party, a drift that could lead some more moderate GOP candidates to skip the caucuses, he said. Some Republicans might not want to compete in Iowa if they assume the conservatives who dominate the caucuses won’t give them a fair hearing.
“It is dangerous,” said Harkin. “As they get more and more narrow, this could be a danger for us in terms of keeping it first in the nation.”