Associated Press

Des Moines, IA - Gov. Chet Culver and Democratic legislative leaders intend to focus on the state's budget shortfall when the Legislature convenes next week, but activists are working to get gay marriage on the agenda.  Supporters and opponents of a 2009 Iowa Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage plan Statehouse rallies to mark the opening of the Legislature on Jan. 11. A group that supports the decision will gather this Sunday, and opponents will rally Jan. 12, when Culver gives his condition of the state speech.

The Iowa Family Policy Council, a group leading the push to approve a constitutional amendment overturning the court ruling, also is criticizing Culver for issuing a proclamation that supports the rights of transgender people. "Iowans know that Governor Culver does not share their values," said Chuck Hurley, president of the council. "As if the governor's unwillingness to exercise the influence of his office in the defense of marriage wasn't enough, we now know that he is spending his time creating special days celebrating sexual disorientation."

Hurley said Culver kept the Nov. 20 signing of the "Transgender Day of Remembrance" quiet, claiming his group had to file a Freedom of Information Act request to confirm the governor's action.  Culver spokesman Troy Price responded that the governor's office rarely publicizes proclamations.  "Governor Culver issued nearly 300 proclamations last year and our office policy is to leave it up to the requesting organization to do any publicity," Price said. "We have been open about this proclamation."

Price said the governor felt issuing the proclamation was an appropriate way to honor transgender people who have died.  "He believes that all Iowans should be protected from discrimination and abuse," said Price, adding that he thinks Hurley was using the issue to score political points and gain attention in the days before the group's rally.

A group supporting the Iowa Supreme Court's April 3 ruling will hold the first rally. One Iowa's gathering planned for Sunday will feature labor, religious and human rights activists who will argue against any effort to put a constitutional amendment before voters that would ban gay marriage.

One Iowa spokesman Justin Uebelhor said civil rights shouldn't be put to a vote.  "We've never in the history of Iowa had a basic civil rights issue put to a vote," he said. "We don't think it's appropriate."  Instead, Uebelhor said lawmakers should focus on creating jobs and helping the state economy. He said those are issues people care about, and "not issues that pit neighbor against neighbor."  Hurley said members of his group will attend Culver's annual Condition of the State speech on Jan. 12 to mark a "two days for marriage" initiative pushing to overturn the court's decision.

Culver has said he favors marriage as being between one woman and one man but that he won't support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Democrats control both legislative chambers and argue that the state's budget crunch has forced them to shorten the upcoming session, leaving no time for a debate over marriage.  Amending the Iowa Constitution is a long process requiring approval in two consecutive general assemblies and a statewide vote. If lawmakers this year don't act on the issue, the soonest it could be on the ballot would be the general election of 2014.