Friday, August 15, 2014

In Tennessee, A Rare Win For Opponents of Same-Sex Marriage

In the face of a long string of federal cases in recent months striking down state laws that bar recognition of same-sex marriage, the opponents of same-sex marriage last week realized a rare victory. In Borman v. Pyles-Borman(TN Cir. Ct., Aug. 5, 2014), a Tennessee state trial court upheld Tennessee's ban on recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states. The decision comes in a divorce case involving a same-sex couple legally married in Iowa, but now residing in Tennessee.  A Tennessee court presumably cannot grant a divorce unless the marriage is first recognized in the state.

In upholding Tennessee's anti-recognition law against an equal protection challenge, the court wrote in part:
In the Windsor case the Supreme Court opines that if a state finds same-sex marriage to be valid, the Federal Government cannot trump that State's law. The Supreme Court does not go the fmal step and fmd that a State that defines marriages as a union of one (1) man and one (l) woman is unconstitutional. Further, the Supreme Court does not find that one State's refusal to accept as valid another States valid same-sex marriage to be in violation of the U.S. Constitution.... 
The Court finds that marriage is·a fundamental right. However, neither the Tennessee Supreme Court nor the United States Supreme Court has ever decided that this fundamental right under a state's laws extends beyond the traditional definition of marriage as a union between one (1) man and one (1) woman.... The Legislative Branch of Tennessee and the voters of Tennessee have said that the definition of marriage should be as it always has been.....
The court then adopts language from the state's brief in finding a rational basis for the state's traditional definition.

Moving to the full-faith-and-credit challenge, the court concludes:
The laws of Iowa concerning same sex marriage is so diametrically opposed to Tennessee's laws, and Tennessee's own legitimate public policy concerning same-sex marriage, that Tennessee is not required by the U.S. Constitution to give full faith and credit to a valid marriage of a same-sex couple in Iowa. 
Yesterday Liberty Counsel issued a press release announcing the decision. Earlier this month, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in a separate challenge to Tennesseee's marriage recognition laws. (See prior posting.)