Same-sex marriage in Tennessee
The struggle for
marriage equality in Tennessee
Tennessee is located in the Southeastern United States, roughly halfway between Lake Superior and Florida. In terms of geographical area, it is the 36th largest state. In terms of population, it is the 17th largest. It shares a border with Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Missouri.
Most of the over 6 million people in Tennessee, when they become -- or became -- teenagers, start to date others. Typically, they will find the one person with whom they would like to live together for the rest of their life. If they happen to have a heterosexual orientation, or a bisexual orientation, many will marry or enter into a common-law relationship, with a member of the opposite sex. Hopefully this relationship will survive for the rest of their lives.
If live in Tennessee they are gay or lesbian, marriage is not an option. The state of Tennessee restricts marriage to the voluntary union of one woman and one man. Tennessee treats two persons of the same-sex who are in a loving, committed relationship as "legal strangers." They are considered as roommates -- without the benefits and protections that opposite-sex couples can gain automatically for themselves and their children when they marry. That involves 1,138 federal and a few hundred state prograns, benefits, and protections.
An amendment to the Tennessee Constitution to ban same-sex marriage was passed by voters in 2006-NOV with a vote of 81% in favor, 19% against! At the time, polls indicated that a majority of voters across the U.S. were also opposed to marriage equality, but not to the same degree as voters in Tennessee. National polls showed that voters were about 45% in favor and 53% opposed at the time.
The amendment to the state Constitution bans both same-sex marriages in Tennessee and the recognition in Tennessee of same-sex marriages that have been legally solemnized out of state. It states
"The historical institution and legal contract solemnizing the relationship of
one man and one woman shall be the only legally recognized marital contract
in this state. Any policy or law or judicial interpretation, purporting to define
marriage as anything other than the historical institution and legal contract
between one man and one woman, is contrary to the public policy of this state
and shall be void and unenforceable in Tennessee. If another state or foreign jurisdiction issues a license for persons to marry and if such marriage is
prohibited in this state by the provisions of this section, then the marriage
shall be void and unenforceable in this state." 1
2013-OCT to now: "Tanco v. Tennesee" lawsuit involving four couples seeking to have their out-of-state marriages recognized:
- On 2013-OCT-21, four couples who had legally married in either New York State or California filed a lawsuit "Tanco v. Tennessee" in federal District Court.
- On 2013-NOV-18, the plaintiffs requested a summary judgment which would give them immediate protections while the lawsuit was being processed. This was granted on 2014-MAR-14. However, it only extended to the few plaintiffs in the case and did not include other same-sex married couples in the state who had been married elsewhere.
- A week later, the Family Action Council of Tennessee -- a conservative Christian group opposed to marriage equality -- expressed concern that the effects of the lawsuit, and similar cases in other states, may eventually cause the destruction of American society. The state subsequently appealed the case to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals where it was combined with five other similar appeals from three other states: Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio. The case was heard in a marathon session on 2014-AUG-07.
- On 20142014-NOV-06, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found same-sex marriage bans in 4 contiguous states to be constitutional! This came as a surprise to many observers because dozens of federal courts had ruled the state bans to be unconstitutional since the high court's ruling in Windsor v. United States during mid-2013.
The 6th Circuit Court has jurisdiction over four states: Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. U.S. District courts in each of the four states had earlier declared SSM bans to be unconstitutional because they violate the due process and/or equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. All of the cases were consolidated and appealed to a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who declared the bans constitutional by a 2:1 vote.
This ruling was expected to be appealed either to the full 6th Circuit Court or to the U.S. Supreme Court. Although the high court had refused to hear appeals from the 4th, 7th and 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals one month previously, they are much more likely to accept this appeal from the 6th Circuit Court. That is because the U.S. Supreme Court is now faced with a conflict among the Circuit Courts: four have ruled in favor of same-sex marriage while the 6th Circuit Court has now ruled against marriage equality. As long as there is agreement among the lower courts, the high court is often reluctant to interfere. But if there is a conflict, the Justices often feel that they have an obligation to intervene to resolve the conflict.
Finally, the 6th Circuit Court ruling was appealed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court by all four states.
Topics covered in this section:
- 2013-JAN to 2014-NOV: Tanco v. Tennessee lawsuit concerning overturning same-sex marriage ban:
- 2014-NOV to now:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "Text of State Constitutional Amendments and Revisions Targeting Same-Sex Relationships: Tennessee," Lambda Legal, Page 10, at: http://www.lambdalegal.org/
- Amber Hunt & A.J. Kmetz, "Court weighs 4 states' gay marriage cases," The Cincinnati Enquirer, 2014-AUG-07, at: http://www.wbir.com/
Copyright © 2014 & 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2014-AUG-09
Latest update: 2015-JAN-17
Author: Bruce A. Robinson