Iowa Legislators Target ACLU Exhibit on History of Civil Rights Fights
Iowa lawmakers have taken exception to an exhibit created by that state’s branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. The exhibit, displayed at State Historical Building, celebrated the organization’s 90-year history of fighting for minority rights, including those of women, gays, and racial minorities, the Associated Press reported on Feb. 22.
State legislators claim that the exhibit was inappropriate because it presented history from a single vantage, that of the ACLU Iowa. Members of the State House of Representatives have responded with a bill that would require the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs to provide opposing perspectives in any such displays. If the department does not comply, it would lose funding under the bill’s stipulations, reported the head|Des Moines Register on Feb. 22.
"It put up a red flag for us," Republican State Rep. Betty De Boef, who introduced the bill, told the Register. "We feel there is a precedence set when an advocacy group provides and puts up a display in a public place like the historical museum paid for by the taxpayers of Iowa. What happens, for example, if Fred Phelps wants to put up a display?"
The head of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, Mary Crownie, had concerns of her own, the Register article said, worrying about how the proposed law would affect future exhibits. Crownie envisioned creationists demanding equal time to promote their theory of cosmological origins in order to counter implicit messages about evolution and geological time scales that a display on woolly mammoths could be seen as promoting.
The exhibit included several placards documenting ALCU Iowa’s involvement in key civil rights battles. One such battle was won in Iowa two years ago when the state’s Supreme Judicial Court unanimously found that denying gay and lesbian families marriage equality violated guarantees in the state’s constitution.
Anti-gay groups in the state, as well as from outside of the state, punished the Supreme Judicial Court’s bench for that ruling by mounting a campaign to defeat the three justices who were up for retention votes in last year’s midterm elections. When that campaign was successful, the groups behind the push vowed to go after the remaining justices when they came up for retention votes in the future.
Buoyed by the retention vote and the resurgence of conservative politicians across the country, anti-gay Republican legislators in the state’s House began pushing to rescind marriage equality in Iowa by putting the rights of gay and lesbian families up to the popular vote with a Proposition 8-style ballot initiative that would re-write the state’s constitution, barring family parity for same-sex couples.
The proposed amendment would also deny gay and lesbian families other forms of legal recognition such as domestic partnerships and civil unions. A GOP state lawmaker, Rep. Rich Anderson, cited the ability of heterosexual couples to have children without intending to as a chief reason for revoking marriage from gay and lesbian families. "We want to drive procreation into a stable relationship, and procreation only happens between a male and a female," said Anderson, the Des Moines Register reported on Feb. 1. "See, a male and a female can do something that a homosexual couple cannot: they can create children accidently. That’s the issue. It’s not about love. It’s not about romance. It’s about driving state policy toward responsible procreation."
But Democratic lawmaker Phyllis Thede warned that advancing the amendment would backfire, and cited her Christian faith as a reason for preserving equal marriage rights. "All of you here are in some way initiating hatred," Thede told her colleagues. "That is not your intention but you’re initiating it." Added Thede, "The one thing that Jesus Christ has taught me to do is to love. To love all people. It doesn’t matter who they are, we are to love everyone."
Iowa’s Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal has no intention of allowing the rights of some families to be subjected to a popular vote. A Feb. 1 Human Rights Campaign press release noted that Gronstal has said that he will lead efforts to protect the existing rights of gay and lesbian families.
"The fight for LGBT rights is not about ’special rights’--it’s about fundamental rights: fairness and equality for all," one of placards at the ACLU Iowa exhibition read.
Ironically, a similar policy to the one Iowa’s lawmakers now seek--the Fairness Doctrine--used to hold sway on the airwaves under the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), until it was killed by Republican president Ronald Reagan in August of 1987. The Fairness Doctrine required contrasting viewpoints to be aired in order to present a balanced picture of the issue to audiences. The policy served as a guideline starting in 1949.
The head of ACLU Iowa, Ben Stone, opined that no such change in state law was necessary, and pointed out that the organization has long defended unpopular points of view. "I just think it’s important that people realize that the Department of Cultural Affairs is there to promote the debate of ideas," Stone told the Register. "I guarantee the ACLU would not object to a display of something that we disagree with. That’s the American way."