LGBT rights in Iowa

LGBT rights in Iowa

Same-sex sexual activity legal? Legal since 1978
(Legislative repeal)
Gender identity/expression Protected (Employment, Housing, Schools)
Discrimination protections Yes
Family rights
Recognition of
Same-sex marriages performable and recognized in the state, civil unions and marriages performed in other jurisdictions recognized.
Adoption Yes

The establishment of LGBT rights in the U.S. state of Iowa is a recent phenomenon, with most advances in LGBT rights taking place since 2007. Iowa began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on April 27, 2009 following a ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court, making Iowa the fourth U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage.

Legality of same-sex sexual activity

The state's law criminalizing same-sex sexual activity was repealed in 1978.[1][2]

Recognition of same-sex relationships

Iowa has provided benefits to same-sex partners of state employees since 2003.[3]

Iowa has allowed for state recognition of same-sex marriages performed in and out of the state since April 3, 2009, after the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously upheld a ruling by the Polk County District Court in Varnum v. Brien which effectively forced the state to rescind any outstanding discrimination against same-sex couples who wish to have their marriages recognized and licensed under state law.[4] Iowa marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples for the first time on April 27, 2009.[5]

In response to the decision, several attempts to amend the state constitution, either by presenting a ballot initiative before the voters or calling a state constitutional convention, to ban same-sex marriage have failed.[6]

Three of the Iowa Supreme Court justices who participated in Varnum were removed from office as the result of judicial retention elections in November 2010[7] following a campaign by groups opposed to same-sex marriage.[8] However, in November 2012 a fourth member of the Iowa Supreme Court that participated in Varnum was retained after vigorous campaigning by groups opposed to same-sex marriage and groups supporting same-sex marriage and judicial independence.[9]

Adoption and parenting

Joint adoptions by same-sex parents have been legal since a ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court in 2008.[10] Iowa law allows individuals and married couples, regardless of sexual orientation, to adopt.[11]

Birth certificates

On December 12, 2012, ruling in Buntemeyer v. Iowa DPH, a state court ordered the Iowa Department of Public Health to list the names of two women, a married lesbian couple, on the death certificate of their stillborn son.[12] The Iowa Supreme Court heard arguments that same day in the department's appeal of a decision in Gartner v. Newton that ordered it to enter the names of two women as parents on a birth certificate.[13] On May 3, 2013, the court unanimously affirmed the lower court's ruling in Gartner and said that "By naming the nonbirthing spouse on the birth certificate of a married lesbian couple's child, the child is ensured support from that parent and the parent establishes fundamental legal rights at the moment of birth".[14]

Discrimination protections

Since 2007, Iowa has outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.[15] The state's largest city Des Moines has had a non-discrimination ordinance of its own since 1991.

Hate crimes

Iowa's hate crime law covers hate crimes based on sexual orientation but not gender identity.[16]

On March 8, 2016, the Iowa Senate approved a bill, in a 27-21 vote, that would add gender identity to Iowa's hate crime law.[17] The bill subsequently died without a vote in the Republican-controlled House.[18]

Conversion therapy

On March 17, 2015, the Iowa Senate voted 26-24 to ban sexual orientation change efforts (conversion therapy) on LGBT minors.[19] The bill, however, died without a vote in the Republican-controlled Iowa House of Representatives.[20]

On April 8, 2016, the Iowa Board of Medicine announced it will look into a proposal that seeks to ban the use of conversion therapy on LGBT minors. The board, however, denied a petition from members of the State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council, which wanted an administrative rule prohibiting Iowa doctors from practicing conversion therapy on minors. Instead, the board said it will form a subcommittee to study the topic.[21] On August 12, the board declined to take action on a ban.[22]

On August 12, 2016, the Iowa Board of Psychology voted down a proposal to ban state-licensed professionals from engaging in conversion therapy. The board unanimously agreed that such practices should be banned, however they argued that the Legislature should ban it and not a professional board.[23] The board added that any person may file a complaint if there are concerns about a psychologist’s practice and any complaint regarding conversion therapy employed by a licensed psychologist will be investigated.[24]


  1. "Iowa Sodomy Law". 2007-03-09. Retrieved 2013-11-02.
  2. William N. Eskridge, Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Laws in America, 1861-2003 (NY: Penguin Group, 2008), 201n, available online, accessed April 10, 2011
  3. National Conference of State Legislatures: "States offering benefits for same-sex partners of state employees", accessed April 16, 2011
  4. Des Moines Register: "Unanimous ruling: Iowa marriage no longer limited to one man, one woman," April 4, 2009, accessed March 13, 2011
  5. "Iowa gay marriages delayed," April 7, 2009, accessed June 26, 2011
  6. Iowa Independent: Jason Hancock, "Gronstal: No gay marriage vote in 2010," December 31, 2009, accessed June 26, 2011
  7. Des Moines Register: "Iowans Dismiss Three Justices," November 3, 2010, accessed June 26, 2011
  8. NPR: "Gay Marriage Foes Back Push To Oust Iowa Justices," October 25, 2010, accessed June 26, 2011
  9. Des Moines Register: "Voters retain Justice David Wiggins," November 7, 2012, accessed November 13, 2012.
  10. 365Gay,com: "Iowa Supreme Court strikes down gay marriage ban," April 3, 2009, accessed June 26, 2011
  11. Human Resources Campaign: Iowa Adoption Law, accessed June 26, 2011
  12. Iowa District Court for Polk County, Buntemeyer v. Iowa DPH, December 12, 2012. Retrieved December 17, 2012
  13. Danielson, Dar (December 12, 2012). "Supreme Court hears birth certificate case involving same-sex parents". Radio Iowa. Retrieved March 6, 2013.
  14. Neuman, Scott (May 3, 2013). "Iowa Court: List Both Same-Sex Parents On Birth Certificates". NPR. Retrieved May 3, 2013.
  15. Human Resources Campaign: Iowa Non-Discrimination Law, accessed June 26, 2011
  16. Human Resources Campaign: Iowa Hate Crimes Law, accessed June 26, 2011
  17. "Bill Adding Transgender Protections to Hate Crimes Law Passes Iowa Senate". One Iowa. March 8, 2016.
  18. IA SF2284 | 2015-2016 | 86th General Assembly
  19. "Iowa Senate votes to ban gay conversion therapy". The Des Moines Register. March 17, 2015.
  20. IA SF334 | 2015-2016 | 86th General Assembly
  21. "Iowa Board of Medicine to study conversion therapy ban". The Des Moines Register. April 8, 2016.
  22. Iowa medical, psychology boards mull conversion therapy rule
  23. Iowa Board of Psychology Votes Down Proposal to Ban Gay Conversion Therapy
  24. Iowa state board explains vote against banning conversion therapy LGBTQ Nation
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