Three Iowans in Congress support federal guarantee of marriage equality

Three of Iowa's four U.S. House members were part of the bipartisan majority that voted to guarantee same-sex marriage rights across the country.

Every House Democrat, including Iowa's Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03), voted for the Respect for Marriage Act, which passed on July 19 by 267 votes to 157 (roll call). So did 47 Republicans, including Representatives Ashley Hinson (IA-01) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02). Representative Randy Feenstra (IA-04) joined the majority of House Republicans in opposing the legislation.

The bill repeals the federal Defense of Marriage Act, enacted in 1996 to protect states from having to recognize same-sex marriages, and to define marriage in federal laws and regulations as between a husband and wife. The Respect for Marriage Act also prohibits states from refusing to recognize any marriage due to the "sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin" of the individuals involved.

House leaders brought the bill to the floor in response to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote in a concurring opinion to the Dobbs case that having overturned Roe v. Wade, the court should reverse other precedents. Among other cases, Thomas mentioned the 1965 Griswold opinion establishing a right to contraception and the 2015 Obergefell ruling on marriage equality. Like the Roe and Griswold decisions, the Obergefell majority relied on a legal analysis that recognizes some liberty interests (like privacy and the right to marry), even though the Constitution does not specifically mention those rights.

Axne said a statement, "Today I voted yes on the Respect for Marriage Act to enshrine marriage equality in federal law and ensure same-sex and interracial marriages will continue to be recognized. I will continue fighting in Congress to protect these rights.” The Democrat was among the bill's 160 co-sponsors.

Hinson said in her news release, "I voted for the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation that respects and maintains settled law. Now, Democrats need to focus on policies that will help families: lowering costs for groceries and gas, securing our border to keep our communities safe, and getting our economy working again."  

At this writing, Miller-Meeks and Feenstra have not publicly commented on their votes.

Public opinion on same-sex marriage rights has changed dramatically over the past 25 years. According to Gallup national surveys, about two-thirds of Americans opposed recognizing same-sex marriages in 1996, but now 71 percent of respondents think LGBTQ married couples should have the same rights as other married people.

Axne has voted twice (in 2019 and 2021) for broader legislation called the Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in "employment, education, housing, credit, jury service and other areas." Hinson, Miller-Meeks, and Feenstra all voted against that bill.

When Congress approved the Defense of Marriage Act, all seven members who represented Iowans in 1996 voted yes: U.S. Representatives Jim Leach (R, IA-01), Jim Nussle (R, IA-02), Jim Ross Lightfoot (R, IA-03), Greg Ganske (R, IA-04), and Tom Latham (R, IA-05), along with Democratic Senator Tom Harkin and Republican Senator Chuck Grassley.

When House Republicans pushed for a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in 2006, three Iowans voted yes: Republicans Nussle (IA-01), Latham (IA-04), and Steve King (IA-05). Leach (IA-02) and Democratic Representative Leonard Boswell (IA-03) opposed the measure. Although that proposal received 236 yes votes, it failed to achieve the two-thirds majority needed for constitutional amendments.

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