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Marriages and Civil Unions

Tennessee's marriage law is fundamentally backward. The courts should strike it down.

What is the purpose of this law if not to dredge up a dead issue, fostering further division and discontent in a state that is foundering because of its politics?

Ezra Wyrick
Opinion contributor

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee recently signed a bill into law that allows public officials to refuse to solemnize marriages.听

When I initially heard about the bill, I was under the mistaken impression that it applied only to ministers. However, upon further examination, I realized that it goes much further than that. Rather than simply reaffirming the right of ministers to refuse to perform marriages, the law also allows for discrimination by public officials in the solemnization of marriages. I believe this aspect of the law raises serious equal protection questions.听

I have been a strong supporter of the freedom of private individuals to associate 鈥 or choose not to associate 鈥 with whomever they please.

While I fundamentally disagree with discrimination, I also believe that a free society must respect the rights of private individuals to choose their associates. But if we want to preserve the equally important principle of equal protection, then freedom of association cannot apply to public officials.

Laws must be applied without discrimination, and lawful duties must be performed equally. Anything less represents a violation of equal protection.

Lawmakers permitted unlawful discrimination

People celebrate outside the Supreme Court after the court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015.

The Supreme Court has consistently upheld the equal application of the law, as demonstrated in (1954) and (2015).

In the former, the court ruled that state laws establishing separate schools for Black and white students were unconstitutional under the equal protection clause.

In the latter, the court held that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the due process clause and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

Public officials who knowingly seek a position in which they may violate personal ethics in the performance of their duties forfeit their right to freedom of association. They make the conscious decision to be associated with the money of every citizen in their jurisdiction, therefore, they should be expected to perform their duties without discrimination.

If they cannot do so, they should resign.听

Dahron Johnson, who chairs the Nashville Committee of the Tennessee Equality Project, speaks to reporters during a news conference on Feb. 13, 2024.

The Tennessee legislature should not pass laws that insinuate the sanction of discrimination, particularly when the matter has already been settled by the courts. Although the new law does not explicitly mention homosexuality as a reason for refusal (intentionally, the legislation is ambiguous), it doesn't take a rocket scientist to deduce what the aim of such vague legislation is.

Tennessee has been legally allowing gay marriage since the Obergefell decision. However, the 2015 ruling invalidated the enforcement of an existing .听

One could be excused for supposing that perhaps some members of our state legislature are nostalgic for the days when same-sex couples could be denied a license without consequence. Especially when they pass laws intentionally written in a vague manner, with a wink and a nod to officials who are reluctant to solemnize marriages that are objectionable to their religious beliefs. It seems that such officials can now refuse to do so with the sanction of state law ().听

Respect for Marriage Act is a triumphfor families, freedom 鈥 and American activism

New marriage law just stokes division

Despite what some politicians in Nashville may believe about the matter, the facts are clear: Most Americans in 2024 are either .

What is the purpose of this law if not to dredge up a dead issue, fostering further division and discontent in a state that is foundering under an increasingly fractured and polarized political environment?

Ezra Wyrick

I contend that this law stands in opposition to the vital constitutional principle of equal protection.

It is fundamentally backward from a moral as well as from a legal perspective, and I believe that it should be struck down in court.听

Ezra Wyrick is a writer and consultant from Tennessee who is focused on legislative accountability at the state level. He is also a contributing writer for Young Voices.听This column first appeared in The Tennessean.

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