Contrary to new 'natural meaning' law, Knoxville judge deems female a 'husband'

A Knox County judge appears to have thumbed his nose at state legislators who hoped to define "natural and ordinary" meanings to state laws, even as they were passing the statute.

The timeline is of interest here, as is an understanding of a certain circularity regarding this specific case. The divorce and child custody battle of Knoxville residents Sabrina and Erica Witt, you may recall, triggered the involvement of the Family Action Council of Tennessee's David Fowler in the development of a bill that would specifically define the words 'husband' and 'wife' to their traditional 'male' and 'female' interpretations. Before the LGBT Erasure bill was presented (the one that Governor Haslam signed last week), an earlier version specifically identified the words 'husband' and 'wife' for definition; that one was denounced so roundly that legislators abandoned it in favor of the vaguely worded, "sneaky" erasure bill.

In the meantime, the divorce and child custody case of the Witts carried on. Last fall, Judge Greg McMillan refused to acknowledge Erica Witt as the co-parent of a daughter born to Sabrina Witt — her wife at the time of the child's birth. Fifty-three Republican state legislators, as well as David Fowler, attempted to intervene in the case and, though, Judge McMillan refused their attempt to step in, he essentially agreed with them.

Fast-forward to Spring 2017. That very same Judge Greg McMillan effectively reversed his own decision when he chose to identify Erica Witt as a co-parent — specifically, the 'husband' under state law — of Sabrina Witt as it regards the parentage of their child. Last month, in denying the legislator's attempt to intervene, McMillan acknowledged the separation of legislative and judicial power that the "natural and ordinary meaning" bill attempts to circumnavigate.

Though his decision came before the LGBT Erasure bill was signed by the governor and put into place, it brings to light the complexity of the situation for all of us, in that the selectivity of which statute applies to LGBT Tennesseans — whether its vague language such as (ironically) the "natural and ordinary" meaning law, or the specific interpretive direction as suggested by Attorney General Slatery — lies in the hands of each individual judge.




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