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Marriage Equality

Tennessee House Panel Rejects Natural Marriage Defense Act

Tennessee House Panel Rejects Natural Marriage Defense Act

Mark Pody and Tennessee Lawmakers

The legislation sought to reverse marriage equality but was unconstitutional and could have cost the state $8.5 billion in federal funding. 

After failing to win enough votes for a bill they believed would overrule the Supreme Court on marriage equality -- an idea that has no basis in law -- the Tennessee legislation's sponsor and its supporters gathered in the committee room to pray their fight isn't over.

The legislation sought to nullify the U.S. Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling in Tennessee and it died Wednesday in the state House in a 4-1 vote by members of the Civil Justice Subcommittee, according to the Associated Press.

The Natural Marriage Defense Act was sponsored by Republican Rep. Mark Pody of Lebanon, who claimed he was called by God to stop same-sex marriage. He argued that a 2006 amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as being only between a man and a woman should still stand regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court's Obergefell decision last June.

According to the AP, 80 percent of voters approved the amendment, which included a provision to declare that any judicial interpretation against it "shall be void and unenforceable in Tennessee."

However, Tennessee lawmakers like Republican Rep. Mike Carter of Chattanooga had concern over the legal basis for ignoring the Supreme Court's ruling, labeling it "nullification," an idea floated during the 1950s when states wanted to avoid desegregation.

"Nullification scares the daylights out of me," Carter said. "Because no one will answer me who has the authority to nullify, and nobody will answer me where that authority is derived."

The Supreme Court's 2015 marriage equality ruling was based on cases in four states including Tennessee, where three same-sex couples sued to have their out-of-state marriages recognized.

Marvin Heiman

Carter joined one Republican and two Democrats to vote against the bill. Republican Rep Jim Coley, the panel's chairman, was the lone vote in favor of the bill, the wire service reports.

Upon receiving news of the bill's defeat, LGBT civil rights leaders expressed hope. "As the first vote this year on the nearly 100 anti-LGBT bills being considered across 24 states, this is certainly encouraging news from Tennessee," said Human Rights Campaign legal director Sarah Warbelow in a prepared statement. "We will remain vigilant in case this legislation should resurface in any other form, and continue to work with our local partners to fight other anti-LGBT legislation in the Tennessee Legislature."

The Tennessee Equality Project joined HRC in thanking the members of the House Civil Justice Subcommittee. "We are grateful that this bill will not be moving this session and remain watchful of any attempts to discriminate against LGBT Tennesseans," said Chris Sanders of Tennessee Equality Project.

If the state had decided to pass the bill, it could have lost over $6.5 billion in federal Medicaid money and another $2 billion in food stamp and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds because of noncompliance with federal law, according to a legislative analysis.


But supporters of the measure, including Chet Gallagher from a group called Courts Cannot Make Laws, urged the panel not to stop the bill, according to the AP.

"Do not let this die here," Gallagher said. "Let it go to your peers and be voted on the way that it's supposed to be voted on."

"In the name of Jesus, I'm begging you to do that," he said.

An animated overflow crowd watched proceedings on hallway monitors, cheering and laughing at the spirited debate between lawmakers and gay marriage opponents.

After the bill's defeat, they gathered in the committee room to commiserate and pray.

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