A Tennessee state court last week broke away from a tide of court rulings in favor of marriage equality by upholding the state’s ban on recognizing same-sex marriages legally performed elsewhere.
In a broadly worded decision, state court judge Russell Simmons, Jr. ruled that the Tennessee Anti-Recognition Law, which prohibits recognition of same-sex marriages, did not violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution.
Writing that “neither the Federal Government nor another state should be allowed to dictate to Tennessee what has traditionally been a state’s responsibility,” Judge Simmons appeared to be signaling his belief in the constitutionality of the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriages more generally.
In making his decision, Judge Simmons found that the US Supreme Court decision in US v. Windsor, finding Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional, did not offer any guidance with respect to Tennessee’s state definition of marriage or its obligation to recognize, or not, same-sex marriages performed in other states.
“In the Windsor case the Supreme Court opines that if a state finds same-sex marriage to be valid, the Federal Government cannot trump that State’s law,” he wrote. “The Supreme Court did not go the final step and find that a State that defines marriages as a union of one (1) man and one (1) woman is unconstitutional. Further, the Supreme Court does not find that one State’s refusal to accept as valid another State’s valid same-sex marriage to be in violation of the U.S. Constitution.”
Judge Simmons agreed that marriage is a fundamental right, but stated that “the battle is not between whether or not marriage is a fundamental right but what unions are included in the definition of marriage.”
The fight for marriage equality in Tennessee does not end with Judge Simmons. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit last week heard, along with challenges to bans in Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio, a federal challenge to the Tennessee’s failure to recognize legally performed same-sex marriages. A decision in that case is expected later this year.
Media Resources: Washington Blade 8/11/14; SCOTUS Blog 8/11/14; MSNBC.com 8/6/14; Feminist Majority Foundation