Marriage equality act has religious freedom protections, Ernst says

By: - December 12, 2022 4:42 pm

Sen. Joni Ernst defended her recent vote for recent marriage equality legislation after some county Republican central committees voted to censure her. (Screen shot from 2021 news conference)

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst defended her vote in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act in a press call Monday, saying that the legislation protects religious freedoms while keeping the “status quo” on same-sex marriage.

Six Iowa Republican county parties voted to censure the Republican senator for her vote in favor of the marriage equality legislation, which was approved by a bipartisan majority in both chambers of U.S. Congress in recent weeks.

A resolution from the Des Moines County Republican Central Committee said Ernst went against the Iowa Republican Party platform by supporting the marriage equality act, as the state party platform encourages “the repeal of any laws allowing any marriage that is not between one natural man and one natural woman.”

Ernst argued that the bill “simply maintains the status quo” on gay marriage in Iowa, and provides more religious freedom protections to individuals and institutions.

“What they’re doing is censuring me for maintaining the status quo,” Ernst said. “And actually providing greater religious freedoms for everyone across the United States of America.”

Biden is expected to soon sign the legislation, which was also supported Republican U.S. Reps. Ashley Hinson and Mariannette Miller-Meeks. U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Randy Feenstra voted against it.

Supporters said it serves as a safeguard in case the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case which found there was a fundamental right to marriage for same-sex couples. Justice Clarence Thomas suggested in his concurring opinion on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that Obergefell was another precedent the court could reconsider alongside Roe v. Wade.

If Obergefell were overturned, same-sex marriage legality would return to state law. That would remain the case if the Respect for Marriage Act is signed, but it would require all states and the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where it remained legal.

Same-sex marriages have been recognized in Iowa since in 2009, which means the legislation would have no impact on gay marriage’s legality in Iowa, Ernst said.

“It does not require religious institutions to recognize same-sex marriage,” Ernst said. “It does not recognize or authorize polygamous marriage. This bill only applies to government actors, not private individuals.”

Grassley said his vote against the act was not in opposition to interracial or gay marriages, but because their marriage rights are not at risk. But the Iowa Republican said he was concerned the bill would cause legal challenges for groups or individuals whose religious beliefs conflict with gay marriage.

Ernst said the legislation contains explicit protections for nonprofit religious organizations. A USA Today fact check debunked claims that the Respect for Marriage Act would allow the IRS to revoke the tax-exempt status of churches or other religious organizations that do not support gay marriage.

“I hope that more people will actually read the bill and understand we have just improved upon religious liberty protections, not just in Iowa but across the United States,” Ernst said.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.