LGBT rights advocates are condemning a bill in Tennessee that seeks to defy the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling.
The bill, known as the Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act, would require Tennessee officials to “defend natural marriage as between one man and one woman as recognized by the people of Tennessee,” regardless of any court decision finding a right for same-sex couples to marry. In 2006, Tennessee voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state’s constitution banning any recognition of same-sex relationships.
The bill also requires the state attorney general and reporter to defend any state or local official who refuses to recognize same-sex marriages. It also exempts state and local agencies or officials from having to abide by the ramifications of the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality. The legislation has been scheduled for a hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 20 before the House Civil Justice Subcommittee.
The House version of the bill, introduced by State Rep. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon), has 14 other cosponsors, and the Senate version of the bill, introduced by Sen. Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), has four other cosponsors.
However, beyond curtailing same-sex marriage, there are serious fiscal ramifications should lawmakers approve the bill: it could potentially cost Tennessee more than $8.5 billion.
The Tennessean reports that the state could lose federal funding that it receives for its TennCare health insurance program and for low-income food assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. However, Pody said at a rally on Tuesday that introducing and passing the act is worth any cost. He also disputed the estimated amount that the fiscal note claims the state would lose in federal funds by passing the act.
That the legislation was introduced is itself not surprising. Spurred on by the Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT), several counties in the Volunteer State have begun adopting resolutions calling for the Tennessee General Assembly to pass such a bill that would essentially nullify the Supreme Court’s decision. Opponents of LGBT equality hope that if Tennessee begins the nullification process and pushes other states to adopt similar pieces of legislation, they can gain support from at least 38 of the 50 states for a federal constitutional amendment that would once and for all outlaw same-sex marriage.
“The Supreme Court of the United States has unequivocally settled the issue once and for all by making clear that loving and committed same-sex couples have the fundamental right to marry,” Sarah Warbelow, the legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement blasting the legislators supporting the bill.
“This legislation is thoroughly unconstitutional,” Warbelow continued, “and it would no doubt cost taxpayers significantly in a vain, injudicious attempt to undermine marriage equality for LGBT Tennesseans.”
Chris Sanders of the Tennessee Equality Project called the bill’s attack on LGBT families “outrageous” and “reckless and appalling.” He called upon fair-minded people and allies of the state’s LGBT community to speak out against the legislation.
“We are shocked and saddened by this latest legislative maneuver by some members of the Tennessee General Assembly,” said Thom Kostura and Ijpe DeKoe, one of three couples who sued and successfully challenged Tennessee’s same-sex marriage ban in the case of Tanco v. Haslam, which was eventually heard in conjunction with the Obergefell case.
“This legislation does nothing but to insult the dignity of thousands of lawfully married Tennesseans,” the couple continued in their statement. “It also holds the potential for real harm to your friends, families, and neighbors. We urge everyone to consider the very real implications of the proposal, and to reject it completely.”
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