News (USA)

Law allowing wedding officiants to discriminate goes to the Tennessee governor

Tennessee state Sen. Mark Pody (R) Photo: YouTube screenshot

The Tennessee legislature has approved House Bill 878 (HB 878), a law saying that individuals “shall not be required to solemnize a marriage” if they object based on their “conscience or religious beliefs.”

Opponents say the law will allow public officials to refuse to perform same-sex marriages. However, the bill’s primary senate sponsor, state Sen. Mark Pody (R), says it won’t allow government officials to deny marriage licenses to legally wedded same-sex couples. In 2016, he proposed a law allowing state officials to ignore the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of marriage equality nationwide. He also supports transphobic bathroom bans.

The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Bill Lee (R). It’s unclear if he’ll sign it, though he signed seven anti-LGBTQ+ bills last year, including bans on drag performances, gender-affirming care, and trans athletes playing on women’s and girls’ sports teams.

If Lee vetoes the bill, the state’s Republican-led legislature can easily override his veto with a simple majority vote in both chambers.

The language of the bill focuses on “solemnization” – the act of performing a wedding ceremony. The list of people who can legally solemnize a marriage under Tennessee law includes all religious leaders, judges, county clerks, notary publics, and other mayors and legislative members.

When the legislation was introduced last year, some took it to mean clerks could refuse to grant marriage licenses to those they oppose, including same-sex couples.

“Let’s be clear — this bill is intended to exclude LGBTQ+ folks from equal protection under the law,” said Molly Whitehorn, associate director of regional campaigns for the Human Rights Campaign, according to The Hill. Whitehorn added that the bill could also deny marriage rights to interracial couples or any couples that a public official objects to.

However, state Rep. Monty Fritts (R), the bill’s primary House sponsor, said the bill is intended to stop young people from committing elder abuse by marrying old people to access their bank accounts.

State Sen. Pody also denied that the bill will prevent couples from getting marriage licenses.

“This has nothing to do with getting a license. It has nothing to do with the clerk required to give a license,” he said in a Monday Senate floor speech. “It just says that a person shall not be required to solemnize a marriage…. It just says those words, and that’s all there is to it.”

Officiant Eric A. Patton explained, “Solemnization is not issuing a license. When the clerk issues you a license, it’s issuing you a license. They are not performing the marriage rites.”

“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,” Patton added. “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 [the U.S. Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriages], because they’re wanting to test the marriage equality law as it stands.”

Kim Davis is the infamously anti-LGBTQ+ clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky who refused to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized marriage equality nationwide. Pody spoke at a rally in support of Davis in September 2015.

If Gov. Lee vetoes the bill, both chambers of the state legislature can override his veto with a simple majority vote. The state House is split 75-to-24 between Republicans and Democrats, and the state Senate is split 27-to-6 between the same parties.

Don't forget to share:

Support vital LGBTQ+ journalism

Reader contributions help keep LGBTQ Nation free, so that queer people get the news they need, with stories that mainstream media often leaves out. Can you contribute today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated

Democrats flip George Santos’ Congressional seat in special election

Previous article

Transgender teen stabbed 14 times in a park while attackers shouted slurs

Next article