News (USA)

GOP lawmaker wants to let wedding officiants discriminate against LGBTQ+ couples

A woman putting a ring on another woman
Photo: Shutterstock

The Tennessee Senate has approved a bill allowing people to refuse to officiate marriages if a couple’s relationship is against their “conscience or religious beliefs.”

S.B. 596 targets LGBTQ+ couples, though it gives officiants license to discriminate against anyone. State Rep. Monty Fritts (R) sponsored the companion bill in the Tennessee House last year and told NewsChannel5 that the bill is meant to “simply and clearly protect the rights of the officiate.” But, according to Huffington Post, there is no state law on the books requiring them to officiate marriages they’re against in the first place.

The language of the bill focuses on “solemnization” – the act of performing a wedding ceremony – but when the legislation was introduced last year, some took it to mean clerks could refuse to grant marriage licenses to those they oppose.

“Solemnization is not issuing a license,” said officiant Eric A. Patton. “When the clerk issues you a license, it’s issuing you a license. They are not performing the marriage rites.” Patton explained that clerks are allowed to solemnize marriages but that since the Supreme Court granted marriage equality, many have stopped to avoid lawsuits if they refused.

Patton told WKRN in March that he believes the legislation is merely trying to test the limits of marriage equality.

“There’s nothing in the law right now that says anybody has to do any kind of marriage at all, so there’s no clarification that this bill provides,” he said. “This bill does nothing, essentially, except open the opportunity for a lawsuit… The way they have vaguely worded this is that they’re trying to invite a Kim Davis-type lawsuit to go up against Obergefell, because they’re wanting to test the marriage equality law as it stands.”

The legislation now moves on to the Tennessee House of Representatives for a vote.

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