Same-sex couples have the right to legally marry in Tennessee. This statement is also true in all of the other 49 states in the union. Naturally, the backlash has become a tour-de-force of anti-gay rhetoric and misinformation with the very clear goal of stripping gay couples of the dignity and respect they have as lawfully married couples.
It’s unfortunate, really. Rather than leave their gay neighbors alone in their marriages that will affect only the people who are married to each other, these activists have pulled out all the stops to do all they can to push LGBT Tennesseans back into the shadows and into the closet.
In September, state Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, and state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, filed what they called the “Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act,” that would shake their fist at the Supreme Court (or any court) that “purports” to strike down “natural marriage” as “unauthoritative, void, and of no effect.”
Of course, “natural marriage” was not struck down at all. Marriages between “one man and one woman” throughout the state are still perfectly valid both legally and culturally. Wedding chapels still dot the landscape throughout Sevier County, and marriage licenses are issued every single workday in all three of Tennessee’s grand divisions. But it’s not about “natural marriage,” as Pody and Beavers claim.
And now, if state Rep. Rick Womick (R-Rutherford County) has his way through a bill he’s proposed (but hasn’t yet filed), Tennessee will do without marriage licenses for anybody. Essentially, if those on the extreme anti-gay right can’t get their way about marriage equality, they’ll take their toys and go home. No one gets a marriage license. And that really will keep heterosexual couples from marrying. If there’s ever been an “attack on marriage” at all, it would be if Womick files his idiotic bill.
The mantra from the anti-gay crowd is pretty consistent. “Five unelected judges have forced ‘gay marriage’ onto America (with a few slightly more colorful variations, of course).”
The reality, though, is quite different. It wasn’t “five unelected judges” that came to this decision. It was a process of nearly 15 years of going through several dozen district and appellate court rulings, state legislation in multiple states and the voting booth in a few others that finally culminated in a decision that backed up every bit of the struggle that led to that point: States may not pass laws regarding marriage (or any other topic) that violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Indeed, even the Supreme Court has said that marriage was a “fundamental right” 14 times since 1888.
While our more conservative neighbors are having some political success invoking the 10th Amendment, we have to realize that there are 17 other amendments to the U.S. Constitution that affect our daily lives.
Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, says very succinctly, “In Tennessee legislators often cite the 10th Amendment as a limit on federal power. But if they kept reading the Constitution, they would see clearly that the 14th Amendment means that states can’t make or enforce any law that denies equal protection. The states don’t have a free pass.”
We have real issues that impact all of us in our great state. It’s time for Tennessee legislators to stop using the LGBT community as targets and start representing all of us. We don’t have to agree on whether we approve of marriage for same-sex couples, but working to strip those rights is nothing short of petty and spiteful. Our state and our citizens deserve much better.