What if you had to register your sexual orientation with the state in order to marry? And what if the orientation you chose was legally binding, such that you could be guilty of a crime or lose custody of your children for changing your mind?
An Iowa bill (Senate File 2130) proposes just that: Applicants for a marriage license would have to specify whether they are bisexual, heterosexual, homosexual, questioning, or “unsure.” (There’s also a blank to fill in for anyone who identifies outside of the listed options.)
No answer? No marriage license.
But prospective spouses who give the “wrong” answer for any reason — maybe they thought they had successfully prayed the gay away, or they were unaware of that aspect of their sexuality, or were afraid to admit the truth in front of family members — could have their mistake used against them in future divorce proceedings. They would be held automatically liable for the dissolution of the marriage, and it could be used to prove them unfit to care for their children.
As The Gazette’s Adam Sullivan points out in an opinion piece, custody hearings would weight it with the same level of seriousness as literal violence:
Under the proposal, ‘fraudulent concealment of sexual orientation’ is likened to domestic abuse. Lying about your sexuality, as determined by the state, would be considered as a key factor in custody proceedings when a marriage is dissolved… The Senate bill would put sexual orientation fraud, not marital infidelity, on the same level as abuse. Even leaving a child unsupervised with a sex offender or jeopardizing a child’s safety are not weighed as heavily.
Setting aside the problem of marital breakdown, which won’t apply to everybody, there’s something deeply dystopian about what will ultimately amount to a government list of Iowans’ sexual orientations.
State Senator Dennis Guth (R-Klemme) said he drafted the proposed legislation after hearing the story of one of his constituents, whose marriage fell apart because her husband turned out to be gay:
[H]er spouse falsified his sexual orientation and then later on she was not able to reveal that when she went to court. So this is just going to allow people in that specific situation to voice this in court.
There’s no denying that the dissolution of a marriage can be terribly painful for everyone involved, and this woman’s hurt and anger were undoubtedly very real. However, SF 2130 weaponizes that sort of pain against LGBTQ people by assuming that sexual identities are simple, fixed, and immune to social circumstances — the only way courts could claim to determine with any validity whether a person has willfully misrepresented their sexual orientation.
But there are all sorts of reasons for a person to make a good-faith declaration of identity that turned out to be incorrect. Sexuality is fluid; desires and interests can change over the course of a lifetime, and in a repressive environment with inadequate sex education and hefty doses of shame, people who genuinely believe themselves to be straight at the moment of marriage could later discover a completely unexpected facet of their orientation.
What’s more, Libby Anne from Love, Joy, Feminism points out that the entire conversion therapy movement is predicated on the idea that gay men — who incidentally were told not to see themselves as gay while they “struggled with homosexual urges” — should suppress their gayness and enter into heterosexual marriages:
Some years ago, I remember reading about a Christian activist whose primary schtick was telling everyone that gayness breaks up families. As an illustration of gayness breaking up families, she said that her husband divorced her and left her and the kids to go off and live the ‘homosexual lifestyle’. She told people the story constantly. It baffled me that she couldn’t see that she was a victim not of her ex’s gayness but of an anti-gay culture that encouraged her ex to marry a straight woman on the promise that it would allow him to escape his homosexuality.
When I read about Guth’s bill, my thoughts went in the same direction. If you don’t want men divorcing their wives to go be gay, maybe stop telling maybe-gay men to enter straight marriages post-haste to fix their gayness! In fact, I’ll go farther than that — maybe stop telling people not to be gay! Gay men would not marry straight women in the first place if they lived in a culture that accepted homosexuality and same-sex relationships as normal and okay.
But none of this has ever been about creating better lives for anybody; it’s always been about punishing people for living outside Christianity’s rules by first creating a society that pushed gay people into straight marriages, then later painting them as the villains when that solution wasn’t sustainable.
Anybody who’s been following Guth’s career would hardly be surprised by the depth of his vitriol against the LGBTQ community: it’s been woven through his work in the legislature for years. Two years ago, he was pushing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which would give Iowans the right to refuse services to anyone their religion told them to hate. He has complained publicly about the health risks of homosexuality. He also worked on a Senate bill to repeal marriage equality in Iowa, and he has continued to pledge to “restore traditional marriage” in subsequent campaigns.
This is just one more attempt to push LGBTQ folks into abiding by Christianity’s outdated relationship rules — no matter what it costs them.
(Screenshot via YouTube)