Tennessee lawmakers consider bill to separate gay and straight marriages

Lawmakers in Tennessee are weighing a bill that would create a separate bureaucratic lane for men and women who enter into traditional marriages, allowing them to obtain certificates of common law marriage for same-sex couples. Won’t happen.

The measure, which evokes the long-invalid “separate but equal” principle, would likely pose a legal challenge if it passed Tennessee’s Republican-controlled legislature.

A State House committee on Wednesday heard the bill, HB 223, after criticism of the original version, which would have eliminated the minimum age for marriage in Tennessee — potentially making child marriage legal at a time when national The Republican platform keeps pushing false narratives about pedophilia.

The bill was amended late last month to include a minimum age of 18.

State Representative Tom Leatherwood, the Republican who introduced it, has repeatedly defended the native language, however, arguing that the court system would prevent underage marriages.

“It is my position that the bill would never have allowed minors to marry … but I can see and understand how it must have been misunderstood,” Leatherwood said at Wednesday’s hearing.

He said in a statement to HuffPost that the bill “changes nothing in existing law regarding marriage and does not allow minors to marry.”

Instead, Leatherwood said, it creates “another route to marriage” through “common law” to address “sincere objections, based on deeply held religious beliefs, that many clergy and individuals have.” Has the current law and certificate.”

Tennessee does not currently recognize common-law marriage, a term that generally refers to a union that is legally recognized without a marriage license because the couple has lived together for several years. The bill would also require the state to defend any county clerk who refuses to issue a marriage license based on their personal beliefs.

“Just calling it common law marriage does not change the fact that they are making a ‘different but supposedly equal’ choice, which violates the Obergfels constitutional requirement that same-sex couples have all the same benefits of marriage.” are received.”

–Abby Rubenfeld, Nashville civil rights attorney

Typically, couples apply for a marriage license and fill out a form after their ceremony, which they give to the state as a record. Marriage offers a range of legal and financial benefits, which is a big reason why the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that same-sex couples also have the right to marry. In that landmark case, Obergefels v. Hodges, each state was required to recognize same-sex marriage.

Abby Rubenfeld, a Nashville civil rights attorney working to end Tennessee’s gay marriage ban, told HuffPost that the bill is “a draconian attempt to get around the Obergefell rule.” Rubenfeld filed a lawsuit that led to Tennessee being involved in a Supreme Court case along with Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky.

“First of all, calling it a common law marriage does not change the fact that they are making a ‘separate but supposedly equal’ choice, which violates the Obergfels constitutional requirement that same-sex couples have all marriages. equal benefits,” Rubenfeld wrote in an email.

“I already have our legal team together and ready to challenge this discriminatory law – and when we win and collect our fees it will again waste millions in taxpayers funds,” she said.

While Leatherwood’s proposal would not change whether gay couples could marry in Tennessee—they still could—it would enforce a state-sanctioned division between straight marriage and gay marriage based on the religious beliefs of some people. Instead of a license, straight couples could ask for a special certificate.

But Wednesday’s hearing showed lawmakers were still confused about how the new “marriage path” would work in practice. Leatherwood said couples would not be required to return a new certificate to the state for record keeping, which prompted another lawmaker to question whether the marriage would be valid.

“It’s a very strange thing they’re trying to do here,” Sarah Warbello, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, told HuffPost. “The law itself is not very clear on how all this operates.”

Rubenfeld also emphasized the suggestion that the current process has any effect on the clergy or other religious leaders.

“If the minister or the imam doesn’t want to do special marriages, they don’t have to. Simple solution,” she said.

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