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Marriage in Iowa Law

A survey of marriage as it relates to legal rights


and responsibilities in the Iowa Code

David S. Shafer
david.shafer@gmail.com

May 18, 2008

A computer analysis of Iowa laws was conducted to determine what role marriage plays in determining
Iowans’ legal rights and responsibilities. The analysis involved programmatically retrieving and searching
the complete text of the 2007 Iowa Code to identify where specific keywords related to marriage
appeared. The results showed that marriage and related words appeared 1,817 times in the Iowa Code,
across 547 sections and 193 chapters. These numbers suggest that marriage plays a crucial role in
determining a wide range of Iowans’ legal rights and responsibilities, and that it would be difficult to
create a separate system of domestic partnerships or civil unions granting equivalent rights and
responsibilities to same-sex couples.
Purpose
An emotionally charged debate is taking place in Iowa regarding the question of whether to grant same-
sex couples the right to civil marriage. As in the rest of the nation, this has raised important questions
about the nature of marriage, the role of government, the rights of same-sex couples, and the legal
impact of marriage. This study is intended to examine the latter by determining what role marriage plays
in determining Iowans’ legal rights and responsibilities in Iowa laws.

Many of the questions raised by the same-sex marriage debate are emotional, philosophical, or religious
in nature. However, this study is concerned with two specific questions that may be examined through a
search of legal texts:

 Does marriage play a significant role in determining individuals’ legal rights and responsibilities
under Iowa law?
 Could a separate system of domestic partnerships or civil unions provide equivalent rights and
responsibilities to same-sex couples?

Many Iowa laws contain words such as “spouse,” “husband,” “wife,” and other words related to
marriage. As a result, those laws ostensibly apply only to couples who have entered into a marriage
which is legally recognized in Iowa. How many rights and responsibilities only apply to legally married
individuals? When legally recognized marriage isn’t an option, what is the impact on individuals’ rights
and responsibilities under Iowa law? Conversely, what legislation would need to be amended or
reproduced in order to create a parallel system of domestic partnerships or civil unions that would
provide equivalent rights and responsibilities to marriage?

Determining where words related to marriage appear in Iowa law (and the number of times those words
appear) will give some indication of not only the impact marriage has in Iowa laws, but also the
magnitude of legislation that would be required to create a parallel system of rights and responsibilities
for same-sex couples through domestic partnerships or civil unions.

Methodology
Using automated processes, the complete text of the most recent version of the Iowa Code (Iowa Code
2007) was retrieved electronically on April 18, 2008, from the Iowa General Assembly Web Site at
http://www.legis.state.ia.us. The text was indexed for efficient searching, and then searched for specific
words related to marriage (a complete list of keywords appears at the end of this report).

Results
A total of 1,817 keyword matches were found in the Iowa Code. The matches were found in 547
sections, across 193 chapters. The matching portions represent 2% of all sections, and 15% of all
chapters of the Iowa Code.

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The matching sections cover a wide range of subjects, from campaign finance to franchise agreements,
and gun control to license plates. (For a complete list of matches organized by chapter and section, as
well as an index alphabetized by keyword, please refer to the document “Marriage in Iowa Law —
Complete Results”.) The chapters and sections with the greatest numbers of matches are summarized
below:

Top 10 Chapters
1. Chapter 633, Probate Code (195 matches)
2. Chapter 422, Individual Income, Corporate, and Franchise Taxes (125 matches)
3. Chapter 598, Dissolution of Marriage and Domestic Relations (111 matches)
4. Chapter 595, Marriage (86 matches)
5. Chapter 321, Motor Vehicles and Law of the Road (75 matches)
6. Chapter 411, Retirement System for Police Officers and Fire Fighters (65 matches)
7. Chapter 249B, Medical Assistance to Institutionalized Spouses (61 matches)
8. Chapter 597, Husband and Wife (58 matches)
9. Chapter 97A, Public Safety Peace Officers’ Retirement, Accident, and Disability System (43
matches)
10. Chapter 144, Vital Statistics (41 matches)

Top 10 Sections
1. Section 321.34, Plates or Validation Sticker Furnished — Retained by Owner — Special Plates (67
matches)
2. Section 422.5, Tax Imposed — Exclusions — Alternative Minimum Tax (43 matches)
3. Section 411.6, Benefits (36 matches)
4. Section 249B.3, Notice of Spousal Support Debt — Failure to Respond — Hearing — Order (31
matches)
5. Section 422.7, “Net Income” — How Computed (27 matches)
6. Section 410.10, Pensions — Surviving Spouse — Children — Dependents (25 matches)
7. Section 252A.3, Liability for Support (23 matches)
8. Section 633.237, Presumption Against Filing Elective Share (21 matches)
9. Section 595.2, Gender — Age (20 matches)
10. Section 249A.3, Eligibility (19 matches)

Conclusions
A rigorous analysis of the matching sections of Iowa law must be left to legal experts. However, at 1,817
keyword matches, the volume and variety of matches suggest that marriage plays a crucial role in
determining a wide range of individuals’ legal rights and responsibilities under Iowa law.

Additionally, the numbers suggest it would be difficult to create a parallel system of domestic
partnerships or civil unions that would provide equivalent rights and responsibilities to marriage. More
than 50% of keyword matches are for the word “spouse”; an additional 15% are for the word
“marriage”. To provide equivalent rights and responsibilities, a system of domestic partnerships or civil

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unions would either need to rewrite 547 sections of the Iowa Code, or redefine the words “spouse” and
“marriage” within the context of Iowa law to include domestic partnerships and civil unions. Extending
civil marriage to same-sex couples would likely require much less time and effort, and would create far
less confusion.

Thus, while many questions remain in the debate over same-sex marriage in Iowa, the data gathered by
this study suggest answers to two of the most immediate questions:

 Marriage does play a significant role in determining individuals’ legal rights and responsibilities
under Iowa law, and
 It would not be feasible to create a separate system of domestic partnerships and civil unions
granting equivalent legal rights and responsibilities to civil marriage.

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Keywords
For the purpose of this study, the keywords below were located within the text of the Iowa Code; a
count of occurrences follows each keyword. (Keywords which were searched but yielded no match have
been omitted from this list.)

Keyword Count
divorce 24
divorced 8
husband 72
husband's 4
marital 86
marriage 271
marriages 11
married 97
marry 10
matrimony 6
premarital 17
remarried 4
spousal 45
spouse 910
spouses 74
spouse's 44
unmarried 21
unremarried 2
unwed 1
wedding 5
wedlock 17
widow 6
widower 3
wife 74
wife's 4
wives 1
Total 1,817