Tennessee Advances Controversial Bill Allowing Officials to Decline LGBTQ+ Marriages

Tennessee Advances Controversial Bill Allowing Officials to Decline LGBTQ+ Marriages

A bill that would let anyone refuse to perform a marriage that they don’t personally agree with was passed by the Tennessee Senate on Monday night.

Senate Bill 596 stated “a person shall not be required to solemnize a marriage if the person has an objection to solemnizing the marriage based on the person’s conscience or religious beliefs.”

The same companion bill in the state House was sponsored by state representative Monty Fritts (R), who stated last year that the purpose of the bill was “simply and clearly to protect the rights of the officiate or officiates of wedding ceremonies.”

But as of right now, no one is required by Tennessee law to perform a marriage ceremony if they want not to.

The House bill is exactly the same as the Senate measure. The next vote on it will take place in the House.

This is the Republican-controlled legislature’s second attempt to advance a bill that opponents claim could have far-reaching effects, particularly on interracial and LGBTQ+ couples.

“The way it’s worded, you can discriminate against anybody for any reason, which is terrible,” Tennessee-based clergyman Eric Patton told Nashville television station WKRN. “The idea that you can discriminate against anybody is just wrong-headed and general Tennessee nonsense.”

The state wishes “to test the marriage equality law as it stands,” according to Patton, who told the Nashville site that the “vaguely worded” legislation is making itself vulnerable to litigation.

The state’s anti-drag law from the previous year, as well as this one, were denounced by the Human Rights Campaign and Tennessee Equality Project.

Since the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which upheld the constitutional protection of same-sex marriage, marriage equality has been a federally recognized right.

The Respect for Marriage Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law in 2022, repealed the Defense of Marriage Act of the Clinton administration and ensured government protections for same-sex couples nationwide. This act also protects same-sex and interracial marriages.

Despite being hailed as the largest victory for LGBTQ+ equality since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” detractors claim the bill catered more to religious organizations than to LGBTQ+ groups and didn’t go far enough.

A legal change creates exclusions for religious groups that choose not to marry same-sex couples.

Additionally, these organizations can continue to receive federal subsidies and maintain their tax exempt status even in the event that they choose to provide services for a same-sex marriage.

There are just two states with laws allowing state and local officials to deny weddings they disagree with: North Carolina and Mississippi.

More anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced and passed in Tennessee last year than in any other state.

The Human Rights Campaign’s director of legal policy, Cathryn Oakley, described Tennessee as a “innovator” in terms of anti-LGBTQ laws.

Oakley told Rolling Stone, “They try things early. Sometimes they don’t pass them right away, but they’ve got a little bit of everything. They’re a lab for this stuff.”

According to the American Civil Liberties Union’s legislative tracker, 29 of the more than 415 anti-LGBTQ measures submitted in state legislatures this year have their origins in Tennessee.