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Marriage Equality

Tennessee Lawsuit Seeks to Stop All Marriages

David Fowler
Attorney David Fowler

It's the latest right-wing attempt to get around the Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling.

With Tennessee's state legislature having failed to end same-sex marriages, some antigay activists are turning to the courts in an effort to prevent the issuance of any marriage licenses.

Howard Thompson, a member of the Bradley County Commission in eastern Tennessee, and local Church of God minister Guinn Green, filed suit Thursday in the county's Circuit Court, seeking to keep the county clerk from granting licenses, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.

Their suit argues that because last year's marriage equality ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws that exclude same-sex couples from marriage, as Tennessee's did, no valid licenses can be issued unless the state enacts a new law. It claims that clergy members and others who are authorized to perform marriages, such as county commissioners, are worried about facing fines for officiating at an invalid marriage.

They're being represented by David Fowler, an attorney with the Constitutional Government Defense Fund, which is affiliated with the right-wing Family Action Council of Tennessee. The Family Action Council's website makes its opposition to marriage equality clear: "Support for same sex marriage reflects not only a misunderstanding of what marriage is, but a lack of appreciation for the impact a redefinition of marriage will have on society and the reasons that governments provide benefits and impose duties upon marriage."

Fowler is representing plaintiffs in a similar suit filed in Williamson County, Tenn., January 21, the day after a Tennessee House committee rejected the so-called Natural Marriage Defense Act, which would have declared the Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling void in the state.

"The lawsuit calls attention to the fact that if everyone continues to pretend that the Supreme Court can 'pass' a law to replace an existing law that the Court rules invalid, then we will no longer be living under the rule of law but under pretend laws made by judges who pretend to be legislators," Fowler said in a statement issued at the time of that suit.

Fowler's intention in filing the suits is clear, said Thomas H. Castelli, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee. The legal challenges "are just another attempt to get around the Supreme Court's ruling that the freedom to marry is a fundamental right," he told the Times Free Press.

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