Grassley says right to gay marriage ‘currently not an issue’ as House passes legislation

By: - July 20, 2022 5:05 pm
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The U.S. House has passed legislation to codify the right to same-sex marriage. (Photo by Getty Images)

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley said Wednesday he would look at the legislation protecting the right to gay and interracial marriage which the U.S. House of Representatives passed Tuesday.

The Respect for Marriage act passed the House on a 267-157 vote. Iowa’s U.S. Reps. Ashley Hinson, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Republicans, and Cindy Axne, a Democrat, voted for the measure. U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra, a Republican, was the one member of Iowa’s House delegation to vote against the measure.

If passed, the act would require the federal government to recognize all marriages that are valid in the state where the union was recognized. It would also require state governments to recognize marriages from all other states, regardless of the sex, race, ethnicity or national origin of the married people.

These measures are already the law of the land. Same-sex marriages have been legal nationwide since 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that such unions were a constitutional right. That decision made the 1996 Defense of Marriage, which defined marriage as a partnership between a man and a woman, unconstitutional.

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in June, putting abortion law back in states’ hands, some Democrats fear the 2015 decision may be overturned as well. Justice Clarence Thomas, in the case overturning Roe, said the court should “reconsider” other rights currently federally guaranteed by Supreme Court decision.

Thomas brought up gay marriage as one right the court should reconsider, alongside access to contraceptives and the ban on state sodomy laws.

“After overruling these demonstrably erroneous decisions, the question would remain whether other constitutional provisions guarantee the myriad rights that our substantive due process cases have generated,” Thomas wrote.

There are not yet plans to bring the legislation to the Senate floor. The act was passed much faster than many in Washington, D.C., expected, with the bill first introduced in the House on Monday, July 18.

Grassley did not say how he would vote on the legislation if it’s brought up in the Senate, but said he plans to read the text. He pointed out that there are no pending court decisions which would strip away the current national right to gay and interracial marriages.

“The right to gay marriage is not currently an issue, simply because one justice mentioned it very briefly in a previous decision in a concurrence than he wrote,” Grassley said in a call with reporters Thursday. “It takes more than just one justice to consider the case.”

Justice Samuel Alito, in the majority opinion, said “nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”

Many Democrats disagree. Axne said in a news release on her vote that same-sex marriage was “under threat,” adding that the Roe decision puts many constitutional rights currently guaranteed by Supreme Court ruling at risk. She voted last week in favor of legislation codifying the right to provide and receive abortions. If passed, that legislation and the Respect for Marriage Act would mean the right to abortion and gay marriage are given by law, not a court decision.

“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,” Axne said in a statement.

Hinson, who voted for the act, said in a statement that Democrats should focus on the country’s current economic struggles.

“I voted for the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation that respects and maintains settled law,” Hinson said. “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.”

In 2009, Iowa’s state legislature passed a law ensuring marriage equality.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations. They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register's Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa's 4th District elections.