Two pieces of legislation were introduced in Iowa’s state legislature Tuesday morning that would ban same-sex marriage in the state, in direct conflict with standing federal law. The bills come amidst a wave of other anti-LGBTQ2S+ legislation in the state.
The first, a joint resolution put forward by a group of Republican lawmakers, proposes an amendment to the state constitution that defines marriage as being between “one human biological male and one human biological female.” If passed, this bill would be in direct conflict with the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court ruling, which legalized same-sex marriage across the U.S.
An accompanying bill would also introduce broad religious exemptions, and supersede parts of the federal “Respect for Marriage Act,” which ensures that states recognize all marriages performed in other states, in the event that Obergefell v. Hodges is overturned. The bill states that “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.” The Respect for Marriage Act was introduced and signed into law by President Joe Biden in December of last year, in response to various threats leveled at Obergefell by conservative Supreme Court justices.
Democratic lawmakers in the state spoke out in opposition to the proposals. “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,” Democratic State Representative Sami Scheetz tweeted in response to this proposal. “This kind of disgusting hatred and backwards thinking has no place in Iowa. And I’ll fight it every single day.”
In order to be adopted as a constitutional amendment, the joint resolution would need to pass in the Iowa house and senate, as well as be signed by the governor, and passed again in the next session before being put to a public vote.
The bills come at a time when several anti-LGBTQ2S+ bills have been introduced in the state’s legislature, as part of a larger anti-LGBTQ2S+ legislative trend sweeping the country. In Iowa, these include a bill that would require teachers to out trans students to their parents, and a bill banning the teaching of content related to gender identity and sexual orientation until the sixth grade. Legislation that would ban gender-affirming care for minors has also been considered by lawmakers. In protest of the legislation, students from 26 schools and two colleges across the state staged a walkout Wednesday.
Iowa was the third state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2009, six years before the Obergefell decision, following Massachusetts and Connecticut. Under Republican governor Kim Reynolds, Iowa has proposed a record 19 anti-LGBTQ2S+ bills this year, already up from the previous record of 15.
Ever since last summer’s Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, which overturned Roe v. Wade and eliminated the federal right to abortion in the U.S., there has been speculation that Republicans will target same-sex marriage as well. The Dobbs ruling contained a concurring opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas speculating that the Court should “reconsider” the Obergefell decision, among several others decided on the same legal basis as Roe. Currently there are 25 states that do not have same-sex marriage codified into law—meaning that if Obergefell were overturned, same-sex marriage would become illegal.
This, along with the hundreds of Republican-led bills targeting LGBTQ2S+ people—which include drag bans, book bans, bans on gender-affirming care and compelling teachers to out queer students to their parents—have caused many to worry that Republicans are aiming to take down same-sex marriage next. The introduction of Iowa’s bills—which are seemingly the first of their kind post-Dobbs, though a similar but short-lived one was recently introduced by a legislator in Mississippi—would seem to prove those fears well-founded.