Metro Weekly

Iowa Republicans Push for Ban on Gay Marriage

One bill would expressly prohibit same-sex marriage in Iowa's constitution, while another would deny recognition of same-sex unions.

Iowa State Capitol – Photo: Dan Brekke, via Flickr

Iowa Republicans have proposed a pair of bills targeting same-sex marriage, in a deliberate and defiant attempt to undermine a federal law requiring recognition of such unions.

The push comes eight years after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in a critical ruling, and just a few months after President Joe Biden signed into law the Respect for Marriage Act, which requires the federal government and individual state governments to recognize the validity of legally performed same-sex marriages.

Currently, the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges remains intact, making same-sex marriages legal in all 50 states.

However, there has been speculation — primarily by the Left, but also by some anti-LGBTQ groups on the far-right — that the conservative majority on the high court could reverse that ruling, reviving statutory and constitutional bans in more than 30 states.

This speculation was bolstered by a concurring opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas issued in an abortion-rights case last year, in which the justice suggested overturning Obergefell as unconstitutional. 

Under the recently passed Respect for Marriage Act, if such a reversal were to happen, both the federal government, and individual states — regardless of whether the practice is banned by law — would have to recognize same-sex unions performed in the 16 states without statewide bans as valid.

However, Iowa lawmakers are seeking to nullify that federal law based on their own personal preferences.

While Iowa already has a statute in effect banning same-sex marriage, that statute was ruled unconstitutional in 2009, with the Iowa Supreme Court ruling that the prohibition on same-sex unions violated the equal protection clause of the state constitution.

Since then, marriage licenses have been available in Iowa. It remains unclear whether that ruling would remain binding were Obergefell to be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Iowa has never passed a constitutional amendment explicitly banning same-sex marriage, but eight Republican lawmakers are now pushing for a constitutional amendment to explicitly prohibit the practice, in the hope that such a ban could immediately begin being enforced following a reversal of Supreme Court precedent.

“In accordance with the laws of nature and nature’s God, the state of Iowa recognizes the definition of marriage to be the solemnized union between one human biological male and one human biological female,” the joint resolution, introduced on Tuesday reads.

Separately, six of those same lawmakers backing the joint resolution, plus two others, filed a second bill that would permit the state’s residents to refuse to acknowledge same-sex marriage on religious grounds, and declares the Respect for Marriage Act to be unconstitutional.

The bill’s language asserts that the law violates the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which allows states to make their own laws independent of the federal government.

It declares any attempt to “define or redefine” marriage by the federal government to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from establishing a state religion, based on the belief that any marriage is inherently religious and cannot be secular in any way. 

The second bill would protect objectors to same-sex marriage from being forced to recognize same-sex unions or being sued for refusing to recognize or participate in same-sex unions.

While the bill is vague, it would appear that this provision would allow state officials, acting on behalf of the government, to refuse to recognize any aspect of a same-sex relationship, including contractual obligations, as valid.

But critics say that the proposed prohibitions on same-sex marriage in Iowa would be unenforceable, because federal law and the federal constitution take precedence over state law.

State Rep. Brad Sherman (R-Williamsburg), a pastor by trade, and one of the six lawmakers sponsoring both measures, told NBC News that the constitutional amendment called for in the joint resolution “would take several years to accomplish,” and require Iowans to vote to either approve or reject it. 

“Should the people of Iowa vote for such an amendment, laws would have to be adjusted to make laws fair for all,” he said.

Sherman also defended the House bill prohibiting Iowans from being compelled to recognize same-sex marriage, asserting that it simply protect individuals’ religious views and “does not seek to tell same-sex couples what to believe.”

“If they want to call their relationship a marriage, they are free to do so; that is freedom,” Sherman said in an email to NBC News. “But, by the same token, people who do not define same-sex unions as marriage must not be forced to do so.”

Iowa Democrats have pounced on both measures as evidence that the GOP is out-of-step with rank-and-file Iowans, a majority of whom supported same-sex marriage as early as 2018, and the majority of Americans, who hold similar views. Despite this, the national Republican Party’s official platform, adopted in 2016 — and several individual state platforms — expresses opposition to same-sex nuptials five separate times.

“No, @IowaGOP, we will not be going back to the days when committed, loving same-sex couples don’t have the same right to marriage equality as everyone else,” State Rep. Sami Scheetz tweeted. “This kind of disgusting hatred and backwards thinking has no place in Iowa. And I’ll fight it every single day.”

Over 300 bills targeting the LGBTQ community have been introduced in various state legislatures this year, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

While the majority have focused on curbing transgender rights, such as bans on trans athletes and prohibitions on gender-affirming care for trans youth, a bill to ban same-sex marriage was introduced in Mississippi this year.

Although it failed, as Republican-led legislatures become bolder, it would not be shocking to see additional states follow Iowa’s lead. 

“This is just kind of the latest salvo in a long string of attacks that continue to get more and more extreme every single day,” Keenan Crow, the director of policy and advocacy at the LGBTQ advocacy group One Iowa, told NBC News. “Now we’re saying that ‘we don’t have to follow what the federal government says, what the federal courts say, because we want to harm LGBTQ people so much that we are willing to destroy our federal system in order to accommodate the biases of these legislatures.'”

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