A news conference announcing the formation of a Republican group backing same-sex marriage drew just a handful of people Thursday, but party members who attended were confident there are many in the GOP who share their position.
“There are a lot of Republicans who are like me and believe in small government and personal freedom, but were afraid to come out here and say anything,” Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson of Marion said at the Greene Square Park gathering that was attended by about a dozen people.
They heard three-term former Iowa Sen. Jeff Angelo announce the formation of Iowa Republicans for Freedom that will attempt to “change the hearts and minds” of conservatives currently opposed to same-sex marriage by convincing them such a position runs counter to their “bedrock” GOP values and beliefs.
Marriage, Angelo said, is not an issue of religion or politics, but personal freedom. He called the continuing debate over the issue and the constitutional amendment “senseless.”
Iowa, with its first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses, is in the perfect position to start a conversation in the GOP about marriage equality being a constitutionally protected freedom, said Angelo, who represented Creston before leaving the Senate. He now lives in Ames.
Former Linn County GOP Chairwoman Kathy Potts Cedar Rapids agreed there may be political fallout for Republicans who support same-sex marriage. The Republican Party of Iowa officially opposes same-sex marriage and Republicans generally support a referendum on a constitutional amendment that would prohibit same-sex marriage.
A state ban on same-sex marriage was struck down by the Iowa Supreme Court in 2009.
Some Republicans are afraid to speak out on the same-sex marriage issue specifically, Potts said, others don’t want to get involved in any controversial issues.
Oleson, however, said making tough decisions is part of leadership.
“You either run to stand up and make hard decisions or to be a follower. There are a lot of followers right now,” he said.
Younger Iowans, who share many of the party’s conservative values, may be attracted by Angelo’s group, said Sarah Schillig, a Davenport Republican who attended the Cedar Rapids event.
“Everyone is a Democrat or a Republican because of their position on gay rights,” the 19-year-old Schillig said. “If they see they can be a Republican and for gay rights, that may change.”
It shouldn’t be a partisan issue, said Troy Price, interim executive director of One Iowa, the state’s largest advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Iowans.
“This is long overdue,” said Price, who attended the vent. “There are countless Republicans who agree that conservative ideals of limited government include protecting the freedom to marry who you choose.”
Jozef Figa of Cedar Rapids was on hand to hear Angelo not because he’s a Republican – he’s not, he said – but “just for support and curiosity.”
“I hope he gets more supporters,” he said, suggesting the mid-morning timing and threatening weather may have kept some people away.
It didn’t keep Randy Crawford away. The Coralville agnostic positioned himself behind Angelo – directly in line with television cameras – with a “Gay rights: AIDS/Hell” sign. Later, he was joined by two other sign-bearers as Cedar Rapids police monitored the situation.
Crawford said that in his youth he didn’t worry about homosexuality.
“Why worry about it,” was his attitude then. After seeing how homosexuals “have taken over everything” in Johnson County, he changed his outlook.
He called Angelo a hypocrite for calling on Republicans to violate the party platform.
“Homosexuals are being way over aggressive, way deceptive and I’ve seen what happens when the homosexuals take over a government like they have in Iowa City, Johnson County,” Crawford said. “It’s really nasty.”
For more on Angelo’s group, visit www.iowarepublicansforfreedom.org.