By Steve Sanders, visiting assistant professor, University of Michigan Law School
The political media are about to begin obsessing over the Iowa Republican straw poll, scheduled for Saturday, August 13. Recent commentary has focused on how religious conservatives have gained a chokehold on Iowa GOP politics. Evangelical Christian activists remain outraged at the 2009 decision of the Iowa Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage. Last fall, they mounted a well-funded campaign to oust three of the justices who signed that ruling. Their TV ads – juxtaposing footage of villainish-looking "liberal, out of control judges" against images of hunters in camouflage and a chubby kid saluting the flag – accused the justices of "ignoring our traditional values" and "imposing their own values."
Now, activist Bob Vander Plaats, who led the anti-court jihad, is pressuring presidential candidates to sign something called "The Marriage Vow," which includes a pledge of "[v]igorous opposition to any redefinition of the Institution of Marriage – faithful monogamy between one man and one woman – through statutory-, bureaucratic-, or court-imposed recognition of intimate unions which are bigamous, polygamous, polyandrous, same-sex, etc." Religious-right darlings Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum were the first candidates to enthusiastically sign up.
The picture of Iowa we get from the mainstream media through next year's caucuses is likely to be of a state in the grip of militant Tea Partiers and theocrats. That would be a shame, because the agenda of these particular activists – with their narrow view of social equality and hostility toward an independent judiciary – is unfaithful to the state's social and legal heritage.