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A Tennessee bill aimed at offering an alternative marriage process for male-female couples only won't get passed this year.
There had been public outcry over the initial version of the bill, which didn't include a minimum age for marriage. It was amended to say marriages would not be available to people who hadn't reached the age of majority, which is 18 in the state.
But the outrage "hobbled the legislation," The Tennessean reports, and so its House sponsor, Republican Rep. Tom Leatherwood, said Wednesday that he wished to send the bill to a study session this summer. "The move essentially kills the bill for the session, though it could re-emerge next year," the paper notes.
The bill's goal was to provide a pathway to marriage for those who didn't want to be associated with the state's usual marriage licensing process because it's now available to same-sex couples. "This bill was to say have your license, but do not deny our understanding of marriage or force ministers to choose between signing a document they disagree with or performing a marriage that has no legal effect," David Fowler, director of the conservative Family Action Council of Tennessee and a former state senator, told The Tennessean.
However, the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom means that no minister has to perform a marriage they don't endorse, whether for a same-sex couple, an interfaith couple, or anyone else. But Fowler said signing a conventional marriage license still would create problems for those who oppose marriage equality, simply because both same-sex and opposite-sex couples can get a license.
Ever since the Supreme Court's Obergefell v. Hodges decision established marriage equality nationwide in 2015, some far-right Tennessee legislators have been trying to find ways around it. They have tried and failed several times to pass bills asserting that the state doesn't have to abide by the ruling, which is not the case. Fowler even represented some opponents of marriage equality in a suit that tried to stop all marriages in Tennessee, in hopes of undermining the ruling, but the suit was dismissed.
"I understand change is difficult, and there are folks that don't like the Obergefell decision," Regina Lambert Hillman, a University of Memphis law professor who was involved in the Tennessee portion of the Obergefell case, told The Tennessean. "But I don't have to agree with everyone who gets a marriage certificate as long as they meet the state requirements."