Hundreds of anti-gay marriage protesters, many sporting "let us vote" stickers, swarmed the Statehouse on Wednesday, demanding that voters be allowed to decide the same-sex issue.
"We hope to get the message across that we the people have a chance to vote on something as important as redefining marriage for all 3 million Iowans," said Chuck Hurley, a former Republican legislator who now heads the Iowa Family Policy Council, a conservative group that organized the rally.
At issue is whether the question of amending the state's constitution to ban gay marriage should be put on the ballot. For that to happen, the Legislature must approve it in two consecutive sessions. That means the soonest the issue could appear on the ballot would be in 2009.
Wednesday's rally was timed to coincide with Chief Justice Marsha Ternus' annual report on the condition of the state's court system. About 500 protesters jammed the Statehouse Rotunda as Ternus delivered her speech in the House chamber, with some squeezing into the gallery to watch.
After the speech, protesters gathered on the Statehouse steps to hear comments from conservative religious leaders. A prayer march then led protesters to the state's judicial building, which houses the Iowa Supreme Court.
Ternus was singled out because a Polk County judge stuck down a state law banning gay marriage last year, and that case is now before the high court.
Critics say the decision underscores the need to amend the state's constitution to ban gay marriage and take the issue out of the court's hands.
"Iowans of all social, economic and ethnic backgrounds want and deserve the opportunity to vote on the definition of marriage," said the Rev. Dan Berry, of Cornerstone Family Church.
Gay rights advocates claimed that conservative are more interested in politics than protecting marriage.
Carolyn Jenison, of One Iowa, said voters elected lawmakers to deal with issues like health care, jobs and education.
"Chuck Hurley and the advocates of the amendment are out of touch with the needs of real Iowans," she said. "Instead of focusing on issues, they are choosing to play politics with our state's constitution."
Brad Clark, policy director for the group, said lawmakers should wait for the courts to act. "We think the Legislature has better things to do with their time," Clark said.
Critics said the importance of protecting marriage outweighs all that.
"Society protects and promotes marriage because it offers unique benefits, including providing the best environment for the care of children," said Monsignor Frank Chiodo, of St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Des Moines.
The rally stepped up a heated debate in this election-year legislative session.
Republicans have demanded that majority Democrats allow them to debate - and vote -on the issue during the session. Democratic leaders said that likely won't happen and that it only makes sense to allow the courts to decide before stepping in.