DES MOINES (AP) -- Hundreds of activists headed to the Capitol on Tuesday to push their views on Iowa's gay marriage law despite Democratic legislative leaders' insistence there wasn't time to take up the issue during a session largely devoted to the budget.
Although the issue likely will be pushed aside as lawmakers focus on a large budget shortfall, supporters and opponents of the law said they wanted legislators to know where they stood on calls for amending the constitution to ban gay marriage. Descending on the Statehouse also allowed them to gain attention from reporters and photographers on hand for Gov. Chet Culver's annual condition of the state speech.
Supporters of the 2009 Iowa Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex unions delivered petitions they said included about 18,000 signatures backing the ruling.
"We expect to carry on a civil conversation with our elected officials," said Brad Clark of the advocacy group One Iowa.
Opponents of the ruling -- many wearing red -- jammed the House chambers during Culver's speech. Religious and social conservatives have long called for beginning the cumbersome practice of amending the Iowa Constitution, a process that requires votes by two general assemblies before going to voters.
As Culver left the chamber after his speech, some in the Rotunda chanted, "let us vote."
Opponents later held a rally on the Statehouse steps organized by the socially conservative Iowa Family Policy Center.
The policy center's political action committee, the Iowa Family PAC, endorsed Sioux City businessman Bob Vander Plaats for governor and took a swipe at GOP candidate Terry Branstad, a four-term governor seeking to return to office.
Vander Plaats had made gay marriage one of the key issues in his campaign and has said that as governor, he'd issue an order blocking enforcement of the court decision. Culver's office has said such a move would be illegal.
"We are particularly impressed with his willingness to stand up to a rogue Supreme Court who has somehow thought they can make laws," said Danny Carroll, a former legislator policy center board member.
In an endorsement sprinkled with biblical references, Carroll said only Vander Plaats has met the group's standard.
"It's time to put principles, biblical principles, before political parties," said Carroll, referring to many party insiders' support for Branstad. "I've been a part of that Republican machine for too many years and where has it gotten us?"
Carroll issued a sharp warning to Branstad.
"Terry Branstad has been caught up short," Carroll said. "He has failed to boldly address the values that we embrace."
Branstad has higher name recognition than his rivals, after serving 16 years as governor, but Carroll dismissed that.
"If he were to win the nomination, the Iowa Family PAC will not support him," Carroll said.
Vander Plaats told the several hundred activists gathered at the rally that he was "humbled and inspired" by the endorsement.
Tim Albrecht, a Branstad spokesman, said the former governor's record on marriage issues is clear.
"Governor Branstad signed the defense of marriage act into law," Albrecht said. "Given the opportunity he would do so again. He favors a vote of the people."
Despite the focus on gay marriage, Democratic legislative leaders have been steadfast in their decision to ignore the topic. They said a budget shortfall of $500 million or more, coupled with a shortened legislative session aimed at saving money, left no time for a gay marriage debate.
Even it there were time, Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, has been clear that he opposes putting the matter before voters.
"I'm still not convinced we want to put discrimination in the state constitution and I'm not going to go there," Gronstal said.