Sharon Malheiro, attorney who helped win marriage equality for Iowans, has died

Video still of Sharon Malheiro accepting an LGBTQ Legacy Leader Award in 2019.

Sharon Malheiro, an attorney whose career of fighting “for the underdog” spanned decades and who secured some of the most significant civil rights victories in Iowa, died on Sunday night. Her death was announced on social media by One Iowa, the nonprofit advocacy organization for LGBTQ Iowans she co-founded in 2006.

“Sharon’s legacy of service, in particular in the legal arena, is legendary, and she is a very special person,” Suzanna de Baca, CEO Business Publications Corp., said in her speech introducing Malheiro in 2019 when DSM Magazine presented Malheiro with an LGBTQ Legacy Leader Award.

A graduate of Drake University Law School, Malheiro began practicing law in Des Moines in 1990. Working with the LGBT Community Center of Central Iowa, she led the successful campaign to get the city to adopt an anti-discrimination ordinance.

Malheiro was also one of the leaders of the effort that resulted in the Iowa Civil Rights Act being amended to protect sexual orientation and gender identity. But her best known victory came in 2009, as one of the lead attorneys in Varnum v. Brien, the case that secured the recognition of marriage equality in Iowa.

“Sharon continued to champion the rights of LGBTQ Iowans until the end of her days,” Courtney Reyes, executive director of One Iowa, said in the group’s statement. “I spoke with her a couple of weeks ago, and she was brainstorming ideas of who we should be talking to stop the harmful anti-trans legislation in our state. She was always quick with a story of what worked before and what didn’t. She wanted more than anything for us to keep fighting for what was right.”

One Iowa is asking those who knew Malheiro to share their memories of her.

“She was one of the good ones,” One Iowa said. “We will forever stand on her shoulders as someone who changed our state and country.”

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