Unlike more than a dozen other jurists, a Tennessee judge has upheld that state’s voter-passed marriage law that says marriage is only the union of a man and a woman.
Gay rights advocates downplayed the importance of the Aug. 5 ruling by Roane County Circuit Court Judge Russell E. Simmons Jr., which denied a divorce sought by two Tennessee men who married in Iowa.
The ruling, which was made public electronically on Aug. 11 and written about by the Washington Blade, is “wrongheaded,” Marc Solomon, national campaign director of Freedom to Marry, told the gay news outlet.
Judge Simmons’ ruling in a state court shouldn’t be seen as interrupting the “string of wins” for gay marriage, said Charles Joughin, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), told the Blade.
HRC says that since the Supreme Court’s landmark Windsor v. United States ruling in June 2013, 19 federal courts have said state laws banning gay marriage are unconstitutional.
However, the leader of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) said Tuesday that Judge Simmons correctly applied case law and constitutional principles and found that laws defining marriage as between one man and one woman are legal.
There is nothing in the Supreme Court’s Windsor ruling “that would invalidate the right of Tennessee voters to define marriage as one man and one woman or require the state to recognize a same-sex ceremony performed in another state,” said Brian S. Brown, president of NOM.
The Windsor decision in June 2013 struck down a section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, saying the federal government must recognize the legal marriages of gay couples.
In his ruling, Judge Simmons noted the Supreme Court has not said that state laws defining marriage as one man and one woman are unconstitutional, nor has it said states had to recognize other jurisdictions’ same-sex marriages.
Judge Simmons further said that while marriage is a fundamental right, neither the Supreme Court nor the Tennessee Supreme Court has “ever decided that this fundamental right” extended beyond the traditional definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
The divorce lawsuit was brought by Frederick Michael Borman against Larry Kevin Pyles-Borman.
The men, who live in Rockwood, Tennessee, married in August 2010 in Iowa. They cannot legally divorce in Iowa without living there for a period of time, so they asked for a divorce in Tennessee, even though Tennessee does not recognize same-sex marriage and views out-of-state gay marriages as “void and unenforceable.”
On Aug. 6, a panel of judges of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in four cases in which gay plaintiffs challenge the constitutionality of marriage laws in four states, including Tennessee. The plaintiffs say their constitutional rights to marry are denied by laws that only permit a man and a woman to marry; states say they have rational reasons and constitutional rights to keep their historical and voter-approved marriage laws.