A lawsuit that intends to stop marriage equality

Just one day after the House Civil Justice Subcommittee closed the door on the proposed TN Natural Marriage Defense Act, a Christian activist has filed a lawsuit that he hopes will eventually end marriage equality in the state.

David Fowler (photo above)—a former state Senator and current president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee—has filed suit along with a number of Williamson County residents, including three ministers, against the Williamson County Clerk Elaine Anderson. The lawsuit, while essentially acknowledging both the Tennessee ban on gay marriage as well as the Supreme Court ruling that granted marriage equality, asserts the conflict between the two. The way he sees it, county clerks are in a bind.

“Namely, how does anyone, regardless of the sexes of the party, get a valid marriage license pursuant to an invalid law?” he reportedly said at a press conference announcing the lawsuit.

According to the Times Free Press, the plaintiffs claim in the suit to “seek a declaration that those provisions of the Tennessee law relative to the licensing of marriages are no longer valid and enforceable since the Obergefell decision and that the continued issuance of marriage licenses under those circumstances violates their aforesaid rights under the Tennessee Constitution."

Simply: the county clerks are empowered by the Tennessee Constitution, but when the Supreme Court granted marriage equality (which was explicitly banned in a TN Constitutional amendment in 2006), then the rights of the clerks to operate under the Constitution of Tennessee have been violated.

More simply: the plaintiffs hope that this jumbled mass of words will provide them a loophole unto which the entire state of Tennessee can gain exemption from marriage equality.

The ACLU responded with its own jumble of words:

This lawsuit is just one more attempt to circumvent the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell. It undermines our American value that the government should treat everyone equally under the law and not discriminate. Obergefell ensures that loving, committed same-sex couples in Tennessee and nationwide who want to build and share a life together will be treated with the same respect and dignity as everyone else. The decision made clear that the freedom to marry is a fundamental right protected by the United States Constitution—and this decision is the law of the land. Regardless of any personal opinions to the contrary, Obergefell in no way affects the religious liberty of those who are against marriage equality. Fair treatment of LGBT people and the right to religious freedom are not mutually exclusive. ACLU-TN remains committed to both and ensuring equal treatment and protection for all Tennesseans.

To its credit, the Tennessee Equality Project is refusing to write off this frivolous lawsuit. Executive Director Chris Sanders told The Tennessean:

“We should take this absolutely seriously. If they have found an angle, you could see this replicated in other states. Any effort to prevent Williamson County from issuing marriage licenses is directly in violation of the Supreme Court ruling and the 14th Amendment, and it is something that equality advocates across the state will fight.”





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