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Iowa GOP Lawmaker Proposes Marriage License Applicants Declare Sexuality

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Feb 18, 2020
Iowa State Sen. Dennis Guth
Iowa State Sen. Dennis Guth  (Source:Iowa General Assembly)

You're not imagining it: Anti-gay legislation being introduced by Republican state lawmakers around the country really is growing nastier, nosier, and more punitive.

Case in point: A GOP state senator in Iowa has added to that state's already-bristling slate of anti-gay bills a new proposal that would require all marriage license applicants to declare their sexuality in advance of getting married. The law takes aim specifically at those who might come out of the closet later on and seek a divorce by stipulating the loss of child custody as the punishment for listing "heterosexual" on the application but then getting a divorce after coming out as gay.

The language of the bill reads as follows:

In addition to any other information contained in an application form for a marriage license and a marriage license, the application form and license shall contain the following information about the applicant's sexual orientation as disclosed on the application form by each applicant. The application form shall include boxes for the applicant to check and choices in substantially the following form:

Sexual Orientation (choose all that apply):

  • Bisexual
  • Heterosexual
  • Homosexual
  • Questioning or unsure
  • An identity not listed: please specify..................

    The proposed legislation goes on to stipulate that:

    A marriage license shall not be granted unless the required sexual orientation information is provided in this application form. Nondisclosure or misrepresentation of sexual orientation on the application form for a marriage license and on a license to marry constitutes fraudulent concealment of sexual orientation which shall be a factor in determining the custody arrangement that is in the best interest of a minor child pursuant to section 598.41 of the Iowa Code

    The bill goes on to say that if "if the court finds in a dissolution action that fraudulent concealment of sexual orientation exists," then "a rebuttable presumption against the awarding of joint custody exists" - in other words, if a gay or lesbian person gets married, has children, then comes out of the closet at a later date and, by so doing, triggers a divorce, the court will automatically take a stance against their having joint custody of their own offspring.

    Moreover, that mandatory prejudice will be defined as being imposed "in the best interest of a minor child" - as if to suggest that a parent who had been bullied into marriage as a way of "dealing with" being gay, or who got married at a time when he or she was unsure about their own sexuality, cannot by definition be a good parent.

    In short, the state of Iowa suggests that it not only has the right to ask people if they are straight (or other than straight), it sets people up for punishment if they don't know they are non-heterosexual - or believe that marriage will "cure" them of not being heterosexual - in advance of getting married.

    Since the proposed sexuality questions on marriage license applications include "bisexual," "questioning," and the possibility of a write-in response (such as "pansexual," perhaps) it's unclear what the punishment for divorcing parents who checked those boxes might be. An even thornier scenario, given the "check all the apply" directive for the sex quiz," would be the question of what would happen if someone - out of a desire to play it safe, or out of contempt for the question itself - were to check off multiple boxes.

    Also unclear is what might happen if two women get married, checking off the "homosexual" box, and one later falls in love with a man - a situation not uncommon, given that human sexuality tends to be fluid. The supreme irony of the situation is the way the bill attempts - literally - to reduce human sexuality to a box that can be checked (and then into which sexuality can be stuffed).

    An op-ed piece in the Des Moines Register called out state lawmakers for their eagerness to target non-heterosexuals, and the inventiveness they brought to their attempts:

    By introducing no fewer than 13 bills between this session and last year's to undermine the civil rights of LGBT Iowans, the Iowa Legislature's Republican majority shows an unhealthy obsession with the sexual behavior and gender identity of others.

    The op-ed identified some of those other intrusive proposals, including one bill that would ban classroom discussions of LGBTQ people and their families unless any such material was first cleared by the parents of the children in the class and another that would punish doctors who provide medically appropriate care to trans minors by yanking their medical licenses.

    The op-ed piece homed in on another egregious piece of lawmaking, the "Protecting Professional Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, the op-ed noted, "would forbid the state from punishing employees who refuse to provide marriage services, accommodations, goods or privileges if the marriage doesn't match their religious or moral views." In other words, all an employee has to do to avoid getting fired for not doing their job is to say, "It's against my religion."

    Since the 2016 elections, state legislatures across the country have proposed increasingly draconian laws that target LGBTQ individuals and their families, with trans youth coming in for especially vitriolic and potentially damaging legislation.

    The "sex quiz" marriage license bill, though, invited particular attention from the op-ed. Even as Ted Cruz was reportedly exclaiming "Yikes" and fretting that "A government big enough to give you everything is big enough to take everything...literally!" over a Democratic Alabama state lawmaker's bill that proposed mandatory vasectomies for certain men, the op-ed in the Des Moines Register was taking note of the way the Iowa state senate was considering a bill that would reward big government with the ability to "be able to virtually peer into other people's bedrooms to make sure they're not gay."

    It's an idea whose time may have come in Russia - where President Vladimir Putin recently declared that "A marriage is a union of a man and woman" during discussions about how to amend the Russian constitution to, among other things, further marginalize LGBTQ people and their families - but, given that keeping people in line by threatening to take their children away is a favorite police state tactic, is America - even an America under President Trump - ready for such violations of individual freedom and dignity?

  • Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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