A guest post by our friend David Fowler, President of the Family Action Council of Tennessee.
A federal district court ruling last week in Ohio is going to reveal a lot about the political courage of Tennessee’s state officials.
The judge in Ohio ruled unconstitutional a provision in Ohio’s state constitution that requires the state to recognize same-sex marriages validly performed in other states (and countries), even though Ohio’s constitution contains a provision that says it will only recognize marriages between a man and a woman. This decision is important because Tennessee has a similar provision in its constitution.
Here is what that ruling means to Tennesseans if upheld by the Court of Appeals and applied to Tennessee’s constitution: homosexual couples residing in Tennessee who go to another state to get married would, upon their return, have to be treated as married under Tennessee law, even though over 80% of Tennessee voters supported a state constitutional amendment saying that such marriages are not valid here.
This is going to create a state’s rights/federalism battle royal, assuming Tennessee’s elected officials have the stomach for it. Tennessee’s Attorney General, Governor, and state legislators are going to have to decide if they will stand up for what Tennessee’s voters wanted marriage to mean or capitulate to the courts and the federal government without a fight. That decision will probably come sooner rather than later.
While the United States Supreme Court will ultimately have to decide whether Tennessee will really be allowed to determine what marriages it will recognize, the journey to that answer begins for Tennessee in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Tennessee’s elected officials will have to decide whether they will join the fray in the appellate court.
Will Tennessee’s Attorney General submit a brief to the Court of Appeals putting in our state’s “two cents worth” on the Ohio ruling? If he doesn’t, then we will know he isn’t willing to fight for what Tennessee’s voters wanted. Unfortunately, he can do that since he’s not in any way accountable to the voters.
However, if that happens, then we’ll find out where our Governor and state legislators stand on the issue of marriage. Under the law, the Speakers of the state House and Senate can agree to retain legal counsel to represent Tennessee. I think they would do so, but let’s hope they have plenty of encouragement in that regard from their legislative colleagues and the Governor.
Whether our elected officials decide to defend the vote of the people in the coming months may help the people determine how they want to vote on them when those officials come up for re-election next year.