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Sen. Joni Ernst rebuffs local censures over marriage equality vote
Senator says the bill maintains the status quo and protects religious liberty
Iowa U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican, defended her vote for the Respect for Marriage Act as a growing list of local Republican Party groups have condemned her decision.
Ernst has received censures from at least six county parties after her vote for the act, according to reports from the conservative site the Iowa Standard.
The law, which passed the U.S. Senate in late November and got final passage in the House of Representatives last week, provides federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages and requires states to honor marriage contracts regardless of the sex or race of the couple. The act does not require a state to grant a marriage license that contradicts state law. Democratic President Joe Biden signed the bill into law on Tuesday.
Ernst said in a conference call on Monday the bill provides greater protections for religious liberty and maintains the status quo when it comes to marriage laws in Iowa.
“I don’t agree with the censure, but I will say that I stand by my vote, and I hope that more people will actually read the bill and understand we have just improved upon religious liberty protections,” she said.
Ernst has been censured by the Republican Party committees of Mahaska, Pocahontas, Guthrie, Ida, Wright and Des Moines counties, according to the Iowa Standard.
However, Republican Party of Iowa Chair Jeff Kaufmann said this summer that county committees do not have the ability to censure politicians, according to Radio Iowa.
Several county parties cited the Iowa Republican platform in their decision to censure Ernst. The platform states that “traditional, two parent (one male and one female), marriage based families are the foundation to a stable, enduring, and healthy civilization” and says the party encourages “the repeal of any laws allowing any marriage that is not between one natural man and one natural woman.”
The platform also calls for the removal of sexual orientation as a protected class in the state’s Civil Rights Code.
“The Ida County GOP Central Committee voted at our regular meeting on a resolution to censure Senator Ernst,” Ida County GOP Chair Teresa Paulsrud said in an email. “After considerable discussion and respectful debate, the vote was split, 5 to 4, with two members of the committee absent, in favor of passing the resolution.”
The Pocahontas County GOP said in its censure that “there is nothing more foundational to our society than marriage as instituted by God between one biological man and one biological woman.
“Sen. Ernst directly opposes the expressed will of God and of her constituents and is hereby formally censured for her vote by the Pocahontas County Central Committee,” the committee wrote, according to the Iowa Standard.
Ernst said supporters of religious freedom should be behind the law, as it codified and strengthened religious liberty. The bill states that nonprofit religious organizations and private businesses will not be required to service or facilitate a same-sex marriage.
“This is a win for those that believe in religious freedom, religious liberty,” Ernst said. “We are codifying their protections within this bill.”
Iowa U.S. Reps. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Ashley Hinson, both Republicans, also voted for the bill, along with Democrat Cindy Axne. Republicans U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Randy Feenstra voted against it.
Miller-Meeks, who had previously been censured by the Mahaska County GOP for her vote, was censured by the Des Moines County GOP in November, which noted in its censure it intends to recruit a primary challenger to her in 2024.
Jared McNett of the Sioux City Journal contributed to this report.