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Iowa legislators propose a ban on same-sex marriage

The Legislature is also considering a bill that would permit residents to deny recognition of same-sex marriages on religious grounds.
The Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.
The Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines. Francis Chung / POLITICO via AP

Nearly eight years after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage and several months after Congress codified gay nuptials, Iowa legislators proposed banning such unions in their state constitution.

“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,” says the joint resolution, introduced Tuesday by eight Republican members of the state House. 

If the measure becomes law, it would conflict with the Supreme Court’s 2015 landmark decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, Obergefell v. Hodges, and Congress’ bipartisan passage of the Respect for Marriage Act late last year. Therefore, it is unclear that such a law could be enforceable, as federal law and the federal Constitution take precedence over state law.

State Rep. Brad Sherman, one of the bill’s eight co-sponsors, said in an email that the joint resolution "would take several years to accomplish."

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

The seven other co-sponsors did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Several Iowa Democrats were quick to criticize the proposal, saying it would take the state — which became one of the first to legalize same-sex marriage in 2009 — “backwards.”

“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.”

Separately, eight Republican legislators — six of whom also proposed the joint resolution filed another bill Tuesday, HF 508, which would permit the state’s residents to not acknowledge same-sex marriages on religious grounds and says certain elements of the Respect for Marriage Act are “null and void” in Iowa.

“The state of Iowa also recognizes the deep historical and religious roots that uniformly defined and understood marriage to be the union between one male and female,” the subsequent bill’s text says. “Therefore, no resident of Iowa shall be compelled, coerced, or forced to recognize any same-sex unions or ceremonies as marriage, notwithstanding any laws to the contrary that may exist in other states, and no legal action, criminal or civil, shall be taken against citizens in Iowa for refusal or failure to recognize or participate in same-sex unions or ceremonies.”

Sherman, who also sponsored the second measure, defended the bill, arguing that it "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. "But, by the same token, people who do not define same-sex unions as marriage must not be forced to do so."

The seven other Republican co-sponsors did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Although they were previously common, state proposals to ban or restrict same-sex marriage have been unusual since 2015’s Obergefell decision, several policy experts said. They said the two marriage bills introduced Tuesday are a result of the nationwide culture wars over LGBTQ issues.

“Folks should take inflammatory, position-staking bills with a grain of salt,” Anthony Kreis, a professor at Georgia State University College of Law, said in an email. “This is the kind of legislative proposal designed to create a buzz and generate attention.”

Over 300 bills targeting LGBTQ people have been introduced in state legislatures this year, according to counts by the American Civil Liberties Union and a separate group of researchers who are tracking the legislation.

The majority focus on transgender youths. However, a legislator in Mississippi also proposed legislation to ban same-sex marriage this year; the bill died in committee shortly after its introduction.

“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,” said Keenan Crow, the director of policy and advocacy at the LGBTQ advocacy group One Iowa. “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.’”

Support for same-sex marriage has grown among Republican voters and some Republican lawmakers. However, the most recent Republican National Committee platform — enacted in 2016 and renewed in 2020 — includes at least five references to marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.