Iowa lawmakers are divided on same-sex marriage

Nov. 18 – Just days after the election, Senate Democrats introduced a bill to give federal protections to same-sex and interracial marriages.

The Respect for Marriage Bill passed the House of Representatives July 267-157 with all 220 Democrats voting in favor along with 47 Republicans.

On Wednesday, the Senate approved Bill 53-23 with 12 Republicans supporting all 50 Democrats.

Although five of Iowa’s six federal legislatures are Republicans, four voted in favor of the law. Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Randy Feenstra, both re-elected in this month’s election, voted against, while Sen. Joni Ernst and Rep. Cindy Axne, Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Ashley Hinson voted in favor.

The bill would not require any state to allow same-sex couples to marry. But it would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied state benefits to same-sex couples.

The Marriage Respect Act repeals all federal provisions that define marriage as between a man and a woman and a spouse as a person of the opposite sex.

It also repeals provisions that do not require states to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. This would prohibit the denial of unconditional belief and reputation or any rights or claims related to out-of-state marriages on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, or national origin.

The push to put it to a vote began in the summer after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas gave his opinion in the ruling overturning the 50-year-old Roe v. Wade, who had upheld abortion rights, also suggested the court “should reconsider” precedents on marriage equality and access to contraception.

In a statement, Grassley said: “Interracial and same-sex marriages are not under threat, and I do not support reversing federal recognition of these marriages. Of course, I believe that all married couples should continue to be able to enjoy the same federal rights and privileges that Barbara and I have enjoyed for 68 years — regardless of race or sexual orientation. Marriage is a contract that often means too many other contracts, and the federal government cannot cancel those agreements and turn the couples’ plans upside down, which has been trusted for years.

My vote against this bill is not to oppose the recognition of same-sex or interracial marriages; it is about defending the freedom of religion enshrined in our founding documents. This law is simply unnecessary. No one seriously believes Obergefell will be overthrown, so we don’t need legislation. I’ve heard from many Iowans who fear lawsuits over religious freedom.”

After the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling asking states to recognize same-sex marriage, Grassley said: “No one should let their deeply held religious beliefs be trampled on by their government. Although the decision is the law of the country, at least for now, history has taught us that a cultural debate like this will not be settled with this verdict. I expect we’ll be discussing marriage for many years to come.”

While Ernst responded similarly, her decision has changed over the years. “I am disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision and its failure to recognize our states’ freedom to make their own decisions about their respective marriage laws,” she said in 2015. “While I personally believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, I contend that this is an issue best dealt with at the state level.”

Before the bill went to a vote, Ernst said she was open to voting in favor of it depending on the content and wording of the bill. She ended up supporting the legislation alongside Republicans Cynthia Lummis, Roy Blunt, Shelley Moore Capito, Lisa Murkowski, Rob Portman, Dan Sullivan, Thom Tillis, Todd Young, Susan Collins and Mitt Romney.

In voting for the bill in July, Hinson said, “I voted in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation that respects the law and upholds our boundary to protect our communities and get our economy running again.”

This legislation comes just before Republicans officially take control of the House of Representatives and set the stage for a two-year divided government.

A red wave swept through Iowa, ousting Democratic lawmakers at every level. Zach Nunn will take over Axne in January after a narrow win in District 3.