Skip to content Skip to footer

Tennessee State Legislature Passes Bill to Allow LGBTQ Marriage Discrimination

The bill would also allow government officials to deny marriage rights to interracial couples, critics warn.

Republican lawmakers in the Tennessee state legislature have advanced a bill to the governor which, if signed into law, would give public officials the ability to deny marriages to LGBTQ or interracial couples.

The bill would invariably be challenged by LGBTQ groups as unconstitutional, in violation of standards that were enacted through Supreme Court rulings like Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage throughout the entire country, and Loving v. Virginia, which forbids state laws barring interracial marriages.

The bill is sponsored by state Sen. Mark Pody (R) and state Rep. Monty Fritts (R). Fritts has asserted that any opposition to the bill being anti-LGBTQ is misplaced because the bill doesn’t mention such marriages at all, dubiously claiming that the bill merely exists to clarify “the rights of the officiate or officiates of wedding ceremonies” to refuse to perform marriage ceremonies based on religious convictions, rights that already exist within the state and that aren’t being questioned or challenged.

However, the text of the bill certainly has the potential to reduce the ability of LGBTQ couples to get their marriages recognized by the state, says Tennessee-based minister Eric Patton.

“The way it’s worded, you can discriminate against anybody for any reason, which is terrible,” Patton told a local news station. “The idea that you can discriminate against anybody is just wrong-headed and general Tennessee nonsense.”

The bill’s text reads:

A person shall not be required to solemnize a marriage if the person has an objection to solemnizing the marriage based on the person’s conscience or religious beliefs.

The bill wouldn’t just apply to wedding officiants and religious leaders — it also amends Tennessee Code Section 36-3-301, which applies to public government officials, including county clerks who handle marriage licenses. The legislation would allow those individuals, too, to refuse to “solemnize” a marriage based on their own religious convictions.

It’s unclear whether Republican Gov. Bill Lee will sign the bill into law. Lee has signed a slew of anti-LGBTQ bills since becoming governor, including one allowing state-funded foster care agencies to legally deny LGBTQ people the ability to serve as foster parents. Since 2015, more than a dozen anti-LGBTQ bills have become law in Tennessee.

Allison Chapman, LGBTQ+ legislative researcher and activist, spoke to Truthout about the potential outcomes of the bill’s passage.

“Tennessee is attempting to bypass the Supreme Court by trying to skirt around the decisions made in Loving v. Virginia and Obergefell v. Hodges by allowing anyone to refuse to perform a marriage due to their personal beliefs,” Chapman said. “This allows for blatant discrimination to occur by members of government and clergy, making it near impossible for some couples to get married in the most conservative parts of Tennessee.”

Join us in defending the truth before it’s too late

The future of independent journalism is uncertain, and the consequences of losing it are too grave to ignore. To ensure Truthout remains safe, strong, and free, we need to raise $43,000 in the next 6 days. Every dollar raised goes directly toward the costs of producing news you can trust.

Please give what you can — because by supporting us with a tax-deductible donation, you’re not just preserving a source of news, you’re helping to safeguard what’s left of our democracy.