Michael F. Haverluck | August 19, 2014
For the first time since June 2013, and stemming the tide of dozens of federal, state and appeals court decisions striking down biblical marriage protection amendments that banned same-sex unions, a judge in Tennessee has ruled that his state’s marriage protection amendment promoting “family continuity and stability is certainly a legitimate state interest.”
The decision, made by Roane County Circuit Judge Russell Simmons, comes as a breath of fresh air to conservatives and Christians alike, as prior to the ruling, more than a dozen states used the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court’s United States v. Windsor case to overturn state amendments protecting marriage as between one man and one woman. Just last week, Virginia became the most recent state to legalize “gay marriage.”
Simmons ruled that the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution is not violated by the marriage amendment.
“The Windsor case is concerned with the definition of marriage only as it applies to federal laws and does not give an opinion concerning whether one state must accept as valid a same-sex marriage allowed in another state.” Simmons states in his decision. “Further, the Supreme Court does not find that one state’s refusal to accept another state’s valid same-sex marriage to be in violation of the U.S. Constitution.”
Unlike judges from more than a dozen other states over the past 14 months, Simmons points out that the nation’s highest court has never gone as far as to declare natural marriage unconstitutional.
“The Supreme Court does not go the final step and find that a state that defines marriages as a union of one man and one woman is unconstitutional,” Simmons argues. “[N]either the federal government nor another state should be allowed to dictate to Tennessee what has traditionally been a state’s responsibility.”
Straightening out marriage?
Christian and conservative leaders applaud the bold finding of Judge Simmons, which goes against the grain of recent decisions that give momentum to the LGBTQ community’s agenda sweeping the nation — the normalization and acceptance of “same-sex marriage.”
“The decision says what Liberty Counsel has been saying all along: ‘marriage and procreation are fundamental to the very existence and survival for the race … promoting a stable family structure is a legitimate state interest,'” Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver proclaims.
Staver recognizes the huge investment a state has in healthy, natural marriages.
“When a child comes home from school to a stable, loving family with a mom and a dad who are caring for his or her needs, that is in the state’s interest,” Staver contends. “When a child has a mom and a dad to help with homework or to provide medical needs, that is in the state’s interest.”
Hoping that Simmons’ ruling marks the beginning of a new tide of decisions upholding bans on same-sex marriage, many natural marriage advocates are grateful that Simmons took a stand. They now take note of the key points behind Simmons’ ruling, which not only reject a claim of discrimination, but refuse a claim that the Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause forces the state to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.
Even though Simmons’ decision only formally addresses and upholds the portion of Tennessee’s marriage protection amendment that does not recognize pre-existing same-sex marriages from other states, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is currently reviewing this aspect.
Marriage today: How we got here and where we’re going
Every state’s challenge to marriage protection amendments is unique.
In the Tennessee case, two same-sex partners wanted to get a divorce in Tennessee after “marrying” elsewhere. For a divorce to be granted, a brief recognition of the marriage by the state of dissolution is required. Consequently, the issue at hand in the lawsuit had nothing to do with Tennessee’s marriage protection amendment that bans same-sex marriage licenses for “gay” or lesbian couples.
Despite the recent victory, the state of marriage looked a bit different in Tennessee in March, when a federal judge in The Volunteer State ruled the other way, finding that three same-sex couples should have their marriages from other states recognized. This lawsuit is currently being appealed in Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Aside from Simmons’ decision in Tennessee, the only other judges ruling in favor of marriage protection amendments after the Windsor ruling were involved in dissenting appeals court decisions in Oklahoma, Utah and most recently, Virginia. It should be noted, though, that the majority in these lawsuits struck down the bans on gay marriage.
In an attempt to take the focus off the latest victory for natural marriage in Tennessee, Human Rights Campaign Press Secretary Charles Joughin, a same-sex marriage advocate, stresses that Simmons’ ruling is an exception to the “wave” of rulings coming from states coast to coast.
“Inevitably the Supreme Court of the United States will have to be the ultimate decider on this issue, and so far they have 19 federal court rulings to look to that say these discriminatory marriage bans are unconstitutional,” Joughin says.
But Staver hopes that the Tennessee ruling will help other judges throughout the country realize that protecting natural marriage by upholding bans against same-sex marriage will only benefit their states.
“Any ruling against natural marriage is a ruling against legitimate state interest,” Staver concludes.