DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- As the Legislature prepares to convene next week, a key leader Wednesday ruled out any debate over an Iowa Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said the session beginning Monday will be focused on the state's budget problems and job creation.
"I think our attitude is, if it doesn't help balance the budget, if it doesn't help create jobs, it can wait until another year," Gronstal said.
Legislative leaders already have agreed to cut off pay to lawmakers after 80 days to save money.
If he holds to it, Gronstal's decision delays the cumbersome process of amending the constitution, which requires the approval of two consecutive General Assemblies before going to voters. If lawmakers don't approve this year, the issue would have to be approved by lawmakers convening in 2011 and those convening in the assembly beginning in 2013.
The earliest the issue could reach voters would be the 2014 general election.
The Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously last year that a law banning gay marriage violated the state constitution. The ruling legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa and has been a top issue of social and religious conservatives who want the Legislature to begin putting a repeal before voters.
The issue is certain to play into this year's legislative elections, and both supporters and critics of same-sex marriage plan events beginning Sunday to make their case as the session opens.
Chuck Hurley, president of the Iowa Family Policy Center, said his group will rally during Gov. Chet Culver's Condition of the State speech. Hurley accused Culver of "standing idly by as marriage, one of the pillars of a healthy society, is under attack."
Carolyn Jenison, head of the gay rights advocacy group One Iowa, said backers of same-sex marriage have forged a coalition of 71 groups to fight efforts to amend the constitution. She said attitudes are changing.
"Iowans believe in treating their neighbors with respect," Jenison said.
Democrats hold a lopsided 32-18 majority in the Senate, and Gronstal has the clout to enforce his position. Some Democratic lawmakers, particularly those from rural areas, aren't eager to vote on gay marriage and are fine with letting Gronstal take the lead on the issue.
Republican leaders concede they don't have the numbers to press the matter but dismiss the argument that allowing a debate on gay marriage would distract from pressing budget issues.
"They like to present it as some long debate," said House Republican Leader Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha. "It's 45 minutes and that's assuming it actually gets debated."
Democrats hold a 56-44 majority in the House, and Paulsen said the political fallout from the gay marriage issue varies among candidates.
"It's district by district, candidate by candidate," Paulsen said.