Iowa’s reputation as an open-minded, nondiscriminatory state is under attack from Gov. Kim Reynolds and Republican lawmakers who would like to turn back the clock on gay marriage, reproductive rights and other gender-related issues.

If they succeed, they will overturn the state’s long history of fair play dating back to 1857, when our current constitution was written.
Iowa’s first constitution, written in 1844, was rejected by voters. A second, approved in 1846, the year Iowa became a state, contained flaws including an anti-banking provision.   

Iowa’s third constitution was approved in 1857. It resolved the bank issue and leveled the playing field for all Iowans with fairness clauses that said: “All men are by nature free and equal,” and “the General Assembly shall not grant to any citizen, or class of citizens, privileges or immunities, which upon the same terms shall not equally belong to other citizens.”
Two of my former colleagues, Tom Witosky and Marc Hansen, wrote about the far-reaching impact of the 1857 constitution in their 2015 gay marriage book “Equal Before the Law.”

They explained how the Iowa Supreme Court in 2009 arrived at a unanimous decision legalizing marriage between same-sex couples in Iowa.
They also told how the fairness provisions of the 1857 constitution were used to improve the lives of other Iowans.

Because of the 1857 constitution, they said, blacks were allowed to testify in court, vote and attend integrated schools long before people of color could do so in other states. In fact, the Iowa Supreme Court desegregated Iowa public schools in 1868, 86 years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education made school desegregation the law of the land.
Iowa’s fairness clauses also allowed the state to recognize the nation’s first female lawyer in 1869, and in 1873 Iowa judges disallowed inferior accommodations for a woman of color traveling by riverboat.

Those early cases “were instrumental … in leading the court to its equal protection analysis overturning Iowa’s law restricting marriage to a man and a woman,” Witosky and Hansen wrote.

They made clear that Iowa’s long history of legal equality had prompted gay rights groups to pursue a legal case in Iowa. And they said it ultimately led the Iowa Supreme Court to approve same-sex marriages six years before the U.S. Supreme Court reached a similar conclusion on a narrow 5-4 vote.

A minority of Iowans did not approve of the Iowa court’s decision, and they organized effectively in 2010 to vote out of office three of the seven Iowa justices who were up for retention votes that year.

A decade later, animus clearly remains among Gov. Reynolds and other socially conservative Republican lawmakers, who took actions this year aimed at rolling back the clock on same-sex marriage, reproductive and transgender rights.

On party-line votes, Republicans modified the process for selecting Iowa judges. Their legislation takes control away from the nonpartisan legal community and places it in the governor’s office by allowing her to select a majority of the committee that nominates judges.

Republicans also voted to remove all state funding from Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, a nonpartisan agency that provides reproductive and other health care services for women throughout Iowa.

And they voted for a second time to eliminate government funding, including Medicaid, for services for transgender Iowans, despite the fact that Iowa courts had already ruled last year’s effort unconstitutional.
The bottom line of all of those actions is an effort to change a legal system that has protected vulnerable Iowans for 162 years.

And Gov. Reynolds, while occasionally voicing sympathy, has supported and at times championed the actions of her fellow Republicans.