Two Republican Iowa lawmakers join Democrats in voting to protect same-sex marriage

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Three of Iowa's four U.S. representatives voted Tuesday to protect the right to same-sex and interracial marriages, as Democrats seek to protect constitutional rights they fear are at risk from the U.S. Supreme Court.

U.S. Reps. Ashley Hinson, Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Cindy Axne voted for the Respect for Marriage Act, which passed the House on a 267-157 vote Tuesday night. Axne is a Democrat and Hinson and Miller-Meeks are Republicans. In all, 47 Republicans joined Democrats to vote in favor of the bill.

Rep. Randy Feenstra, a Republican who represents Iowa's 4th Congressional District, voted against the legislation.

The Respect for Marriage Act would require the federal government to recognize marriages as long as they were valid in the state where the marriage took place. It also bans states from denying recognition to out-of-state marriages based on the sex, race, ethnicity or origin of those getting married.

Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, and Rep. Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, take part in an Iowa Congressional Panel on Israel at the Iowa Bar Association in Des Moines, Tuesday, April 19, 2022.
Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, and Rep. Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, take part in an Iowa Congressional Panel on Israel at the Iowa Bar Association in Des Moines, Tuesday, April 19, 2022.

The new legislation would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman. That law is still on the books but was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015, when it held same-sex marriage was a constitutional right.

More: House votes to codify same-sex marriage, fearing Supreme Court revisiting 2015 decision

Congressional Democrats are moving to hold votes protecting the rights to same-sex and interracial marriage and contraception after the U.S. Supreme Court last month overturned Roe v. Wade and eliminated the nationwide right to an abortion. Democrats fear the high court may roll back other rights established via court decision and are moving to codify them into law.

In his concurrence in the case overturning Roe v. Wade, Justice Clarence Thomas called on the Supreme Court to "reconsider" other rights established by the high court, including the right to contraception, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage. No other justice joined Thomas' concurrence, but it sparked alarm among Democrats.

The House has already voted for a bill that would codify abortion rights into law in the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned. Axne, of West Des Moines, was the only member of Iowa's House delegation to vote in favor of that legislation.

Axne issued a statement Tuesday saying "marriage equality is under threat" and citing Thomas' opinion.

"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. "I will continue fighting in Congress to protect these rights."

More: Kim Reynolds, Chuck Grassley tout abortion court win at conservative Christian event

Hinson, of Marion, issued a statement urging Democrats to turn their focus to economic issues like addressing inflation and high gas prices.

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

Feenstra, of Hull, and Miller-Meeks, of Ottumwa, did not issue statements about their votes.

Iowa was the third state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage, via a unanimous 2009 Iowa Supreme Court decision in the case of Varnum v. Brien.

That decision prompted conservatives to mount a campaign against three of the court's justices who faced retention elections in 2010. All three justices were ousted.

Iowa's high court also ruled abortion was a fundamental right in 2018, but overturned that decision this year.

Legislation's path in the Senate is unclear

It's not clear if the marriage legislation has enough support to pass in the U.S. Senate and ultimately become law. The legislation would need at least 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, and Democrats currently hold 50 seats.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican, downplayed the possibility that the Supreme Court could revisit the right to same-sex marriage.

"Well, 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 that he wrote," Grassley said. "It takes more than just one justice to consider the case. I'm also not aware of any pending challenges to any of the other decisions that this bill agrees with."

"But I do want you to know that I'm going to read the text in the House bill, and we'll wait and see if that is going to come up in the United States Senate," he .

Brendan Conley, a spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican, said Ernst "is keeping a very open mind about this legislation" and plans to read and review the bill's text if it is brought up in the Senate.

"I have a good number of very close friends that are same-sex married," Ernst told national reporters Wednesday.

Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: US House passes Respect for Marriage Act, with Hinson, Miller-Meeks, Axne in support