By Barb Arland-Fye
An amendment to Iowa’s Constitution recognizing marriage only as a union of one man and one woman is among the top legislative priorities for the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) in 2011.
Meeting Oct. 20-21 at American Martyrs Retreat House in Cedar Falls, the ICC — whose members include Iowa’s four bishops — discussed a broad range of issues clustered in four categories: education, families and children, pro-life, and social concerns.
Bishop Martin Amos of the Davenport Diocese said the value of the meeting is that “it gets the four dioceses together to talk about legislative issues that do affect our faith. While we’re not trying to force our beliefs on others, there are basic rights and duties we do need to bring forward concerning life, the poor and marginalized, the immigrant … to bring about a just society.”
Many of the legislative priorities mirror this past year’s priorities, said ICC Executive Director Tom Chapman. Among the priorities:
• An amendment to the Iowa Constitution to recognize marriage only as a union of one man and one woman. A constitutional convention, which the ICC also supports, would have to be convened before an amendment could be considered. Iowa voters will decide Nov. 2 whether to call for a constitutional convention.
Last year, the Iowa Supreme Court struck down state law defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman. The ICC sought recourse through the Iowa Legislature, but failed to gain support.
“This seems to be the only way right now that we can get the will of the people,” Bishop Amos said. While some people have raised concerns that a constitutional convention could evoke amendments harmful to the Church, “we also trust the will of the people,” the bishop said.
• Expansion of tax credits for individuals, businesses or financial institutions that contribute to a “school tuition organization” (STO). STOs provide scholarships to low- and middle-income children who want to attend a nonpublic school. The ICC also supports equitable participation of nonpublic school children in federal- and state-funded programs, and supports full funding of public schools for nonpublic school students’ transportation.
• Alternatives to abortion through programs that assist women in crisis pregnancies. The ICC seeks legislation that promotes adoption programs, and supports efforts to provide women to be fully informed about abortion. Funding for research using adult stem cells also is a legislative priority. The ICC remains opposed to embryo creation and destruction for stem cell research.
• Legislation that prohibits sentencing juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
• Legislation to limit predatory lending practices.
• Preservation, protection and improvement of the quality of air, water and land in Iowa. The ICC also supports strict enforcement of present environmental laws and adequate state funding, along with control at the local level.
• State initiatives to make health care more readily available and affordable to all Iowans, including immigrants and children. The ICC further supports implementation of federal health legislation with restrictions on abortion funding and mandates, and also supports conscience rights of medical professionals and institutions.
• Ensuring that basic human rights are afforded to documented and undocumented immigrants and refugees. The ICC opposes efforts to make state and local police responsible for the enforcement of federal immigration laws.
• Creation and growth of small business in Iowa’s rural communities.
As part of its discussion, the ICC agreed to create a committee to study Bishop Amos’ request to support elimination of the criminal statute of limitations for sexual abuse of children by clergy and others in a position of authority. Bishop Amos made the request at last year’s fall meeting. Publicly supporting elimination of the criminal statute was one of 18 nonmonetary measures the Davenport Diocese agreed to as part of a $37 million bankruptcy settlement with clergy sexual abuse victims.
“The bishop brought it up; he requested that it be considered as a legislative priority. The ICC is now in the process of studying it to determine the best approach for the legislation,” said Deacon David Montgomery, the diocese’s communications director.