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Tennessee is one signature away from a new attempt to restrict same-sex marriages

Tony Gonzalez

Republican lawmakers in Tennessee are making their umpteenth attempt to end same-sex marriage. This time around they want to make sure a public official is not required to solemnize a marriage, which would mean LGBTQ couples could be denied their fundamental right to marry. The bill is heading to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk, and if he signs it, it’ll be effective immediately.

If signed into law, the measure would be challenged in court eventually because same-sex marriage is a fundamental right — as of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on June 26, 2015.

Chris Sanders with Tennessee Equality Project said it’s ripe for a lawsuit.

“I think, at some point, there will be some county commissioner who turns a same-sex couple away,” Sanders said, “and they will be able to show harm because they can’t find a public official to marry them within 50 miles.”

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling, states run by Republicans, like Tennessee, have been trying to find a way to get around it. This action coupled with the constant attacks on the queer community has made Tennessee one of the worst states for LGBTQ equality. The Movement Advancement Project, a nonprofit think tank that tracks LGBTQ-related laws and policies, ranks the Tennessee dead last in the nation.

Sen. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, and Rep. Monty Fritz, R-Kingston, are the sponsors of the latest iteration of a bill to override the fundamental right to marry. While passing the bill through committees, both have not directly stated the intent of the bill, but instead that it prevents people from being forced to solemnize a marriage. Fritz was asked directly if he knows of any occurrences where it’s happened, and he says he doesn’t know of it happening at all.

Rep. Justin J. Pearson, D-Memphis, spoke in response to Fritz having no examples of it happening during a House Floor session last year.

“This type of legislation is harmful — not only in its practice but in the messages that it’s sending about who has rights in our cities and in our state and in our country,” said Pearson. “It is helping to fuel people who do not care for inclusion.”

Fritz responded saying the bill language does not address same sex marriage at all. Debate was then cut short as a Republican lawmaker stood up to call for a vote.

Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, says the bill is not needed and just clarifies current law.

“There’s not a requirement to solemnize a marriage by anybody anyway. I would argue that that is true under the current statute right now,” said Lamberth. “But this will make it crystal clear: No one for any reason is required to solemnize a marriage, period.”

Still, LGBTQ+ legislative researcher Allison Chapman sees it as a change that could lead to discrimination. When the House voted to pass the bill, she posted that it “allows people to refuse to marry queer couples, trans couples, even interracial couples. They are coming for ALL OF US not just trans people.”

Blaise Gainey is a Political Reporter for WPLN News. He is the youngest of three siblings, husband and father of two. He previously held the State Government Reporter position for WFSU News in Tallahassee. He is from Apopka, Fla., and graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He previously worked for The Florida Channel and WTXL-TV. He is excited to move to another capital and report on state government. In his spare time, he enjoys watching sports, outdoor activities and enjoying family time.
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