One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

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While it would seem that LGBT equality is seizing one victory after another across the nation, complacency remains a danger. The state of Tennessee provides a good example.

On Wednesday, August 6, in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, a judge asked the question most of us have been asking in response to laws banning same sex marriage: What’s the point? The case being argued is Tanco v. [Governor] Haslam, and it challenges Tennessee’s laws prohibiting recognition of the couples’ marriages as a violation of multiple provisions of the federal constitution, including equal protection and due process and the constitutionally-protected right to travel between and move to other states, according to the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which brought the suit on behalf of several couples, including Drs. Valerie Tanco and Sophy Jesty.

In arguing for the ban, and a stay of an order to recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in other states while this suit works its way through the courts, the Tennessee Attorney General fell back on the argument so often heard: “including opposite-sex couples,” in marriage laws, “furthers the state’s interest, because it’s opposite-sex couples who are having the children, that we’re concerned about.” It’s for the kids,

The judge was not having any of it:

“And they’re going to go on having those children, they’re going to go on getting married, they’re going to go on having children. It’s happening in 21 states where same-sex marriages are allowed. I’m sorry, I’m struggling too. I just don’t quite get the picture. There’s nothing about this that has stopped any heterosexual couple from getting married,” the judge stormed, apparently pounding papers on the bench as she spoke. “Discouraged them from getting married. Kept them from procreating — deliberately or accidentally. What are we dealing with here?”


“If you didn’t have in Tennessee,” the judge continued, “a law or a constitutional amendment outlawing, forbidding same-sex marriages, people would still get married, they would still procreate — deliberately or accidentally. Life would go on just the way it has gone on. What is the point?”

This is exactly the question so many people struggle with – how does allow same sex partners to get married affect opposite sex couples from getting married, having children, living their lives as they always did? The answer, as I see it, is there is no effect.

What sounds like a winning moment in Nashville (pending the outcome of the case, of course), becomes less encouraging in other parts of Tennessee, however.

In November of last year, the Chattanooga City Council voted to extend equal protection and benefits to all city employee domestic partnerships regardless of LGBTQ status. This past week, that ordinance went before the people in the form of a referendum in Tennessee’a primary election. It lost by nearly a two to one margin (62-37%), on strong campaigning against the ordinance by the local chapter of the Tea Party.

Another blow to same sex equality was handed down by Judge Russell E. Simmons, Jr., who refused to grant a divorce to a gay couple married legally in Iowa, but seeking a divorce after moving to Tennessee. The ruling applies only to this particular couple, and the judge did recommend that they appeal, so it would seem he believed he was following the letter of the law – a law that should be changed. 

While the man who sponsored the failed “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, State Sen. Stacey Campfield lost his primary, and Tea Party darling and virulent anti-gay former SNL comedian Victoria Jackson lost her bid for a county commission seat, the message from the state of Tennessee is clear: Now is not the time to rest on our laurels. It should come as news to no one that equality remains divisive, and as such, complacency is the enemy.


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