Conservatives want to impeach judge over gay marriage ruling


DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -

A conservative activist on Thursday delivered petitions with more than 6,000 signatures calling for the impeachment of a district judge who struck down the state's ban on gay marriage last summer.

Bill Salier, founder of the nonprofit group Everyday America, said Polk County Judge Robert Hanson overstepped his authority in issuing his ruling in August.

"What we're driving for here is to stop a runaway judiciary," said Salier, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2002. "If the people of Iowa want to have gay marriage, they would elect a Statehouse, a state Legislature and a governor who would reflect that. That's not the will at this point."

Salier said voters should apply election-year pressure to lawmakers.

"It's a matter of applying the proper amount of pressure to legislators who may be squeamish,'' he said. "The next step is to let folks in their district know they're not doing their jobs."

The move is the latest in a political debate over Hanson's ruling, which is on appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court. Critics of the ruling have begun pushing lawmakers to put a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on the ballot.

The Legislature would have to approve such a proposal in two consecutive sessions, meaning the soonest it could appear on the ballot is in 2009.

Democrats who control both chambers of the Legislature have taken that issue off the table, and they dismissed Salier's effort.

"We're not doing anything on it,'' said House Speaker Pat Murphy, D-Dubuque. "We're going to continue to focus on the things we talked about on the first day."

Republicans have said they will hammer the issue in the November election, but Murphy rejected that argument.

"I'm not going to interrupt the judicial process even if it involved the November election," said Murphy. "We are focused on the mainstream issues most Iowans are concerned about.''

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, rejected suggestions that Democrats were vulnerable on the issue.

"We're not on the wrong side of the issue," said McCarthy. "I don't think the average, ordinary Iowan who works hard and plays by the rules gets up every morning with gay marriage on their mind. Most people get up in the morning thinking about things like breakfast."

Ben Stone, of the Iowa Civil Liberties Union, said the impeachment effort "is beneath the dignity of our state and its proud tradition of responsible governance.

"(Hanson's) ruling is based on perfectly reasonable legal interpretation of the Iowa constitution," Stone said. "He did his job and now his critics want his head."

Impeaching a judge takes an act by the Legislature, and Republicans conceded there's little to no chance that will happen in a Democratically controlled Legislature.

"If it came up for a vote, I would probably support it," said House Minority Leader Chris Rants, R-Sioux City. "I don't think it's going to come up for a vote."

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