Tennessee preps for upcoming marriage equality conflict


By Jamie Rubenstein

After months of careful preparation by LGBT and human rights advocates, Tennessee is shaping up to become the nation’s newest marriage hot spot.

In a novel and methodical approach to the same-sex marriage rights issue, Marriage Equality Tennessee and the Human Rights Campaign have for weeks been signing up couples across the state to apply for marriage licenses at key counties. As expected, the licenses have been rejected by county officials, but the legal stage is being set for a future turnaround, say marriage equality advocates.

Meanwhile, LGBT leaders are organizing a series of six statewide rallies across the state on August 31, which they have declared to be Tennessee Marriage Equality Day. The opponents pushing their own agenda in the state legislature have countered with “Traditional Marriage Day,” also on August 31.

The executive director of Tennessee Marriage Equality, Chris Sanders, told 429Magazine that they have been using social media, including Facebook, to alert the public to the cause and is hoping for a sizeable turnout at the six rallies.

At least two hundred people are expected in the Public Square in Nashville, the state capitol. Other rallies on August 31 include: Shelby County Courthouse in Memphis; Tyson Park in Knoxville; Chattanooga City Hall, Phoenix Christian Church in Wildersville and, Putnam County Courthouse in Cookeville.

Marriage Equality has promised a festive atmosphere, including appearances by the Gay Men’s Chorus, ice cream treats and a picnic.

Sanders noted also that thirty-five couples originally expressed interest in filing licenses, “but that number was narrowed to four as couples thought through implications for their jobs and because of scheduling issues.”

The practicality of filing licenses “is very telling because it indicates that fear of job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is still a big issue in Tennessee where we have no protections, except in the case of individual employers that have inclusive policies.”

Sanders said TME prepared the couples who were willing to apply for what to bring to the county clerk’s offices and what would happen.

“Two couples in Shelby County, one couple in Davidson County in Nashville, and one couple in Lebanon in Wilson County all applied and their rejection was documented by local media,” he said in an interview with 429Magazine.

“We asked couples to apply for marriage licenses for two reasons: first, we wanted the refusals by the county clerks on record to add a class of plaintiffs to the upcoming legal challenge,” he continued. “Couples who have been married in marriage equality jurisdictions like Canada and New York would be another class of plaintiffs. Second, we knew it would generate more public discussion of the issue.”

Considering most of the media stories about marriage equality involve other states, “we wanted to bring the story home in hopes of gaining more acceptance as the couples who were refused told their stories,” he concluded.

“Many of the couples who considered applying for marriage licenses had to consider whether the publicity might threaten their jobs,” he said. “In the end, some couldn’t take the risk, which is exactly why we need movement on the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act in September.”

The couples who decided to take the risk and go public with their desire to be legally married in Tennessee “have stood up for all of us by helping with the court challenge to Tennessee’s discriminatory constitutional marriage amendment and by increasing public awareness of the issue,” said Sanders.


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