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Marriage Equality

Tennessee Desperate to Keep Marriage Case Out of Court

Tennessee Desperate to Keep Marriage Case Out of Court


Tennessee officials want the U.S. Supreme Court to keep an antigay ruling in place, upholding the state's ban on same-sex marriage.

Marriage won't be coming to the state of Tennessee anytime soon if Attorney General Herbert Slatery has his way.

Last month, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state's marriage ban does not violate the U.S. Constitution. It's the only federal appellate court to reach such a conclusion in the past year.

The plaintiffs in those cases have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision. But earlier this week, Slatery asked the Supreme Court to reject their request. That would allow the Sixth Circuit decision to remain in place, effectively barring gay and lesbian couples from marrying in the Sixth Circuit until the marriage bans could be overturned legislatively and at the ballot.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights, which represents several of the plaintiffs, shot back at Tennessee on Monday, pointing out that the Sixth Circuit ruling conflicts with decisions from several other federal appellate courts.

"Only the Supreme Court can resolve this conflict," a representative for NCLR senior staff attorney Christopher F. Stoll wrote in an email to The Advocate. "We hope the Supreme Court will grant review and decide the case this term so that Tennessee and the other 14 remaining states can join the large majority of states that now allow same-sex couples to marry."

For its part, the state claims that each state should be allowed to decide marriage policy, and that banning marriage for only certain couples is not a violation of the U.S. Constitution's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses.

There are currently two marriage cases in Tennessee, one in state court and the other in federal court. The state court hasn't shown much promise: in August, a judge denied the request from a gay couple seeking a divorce. The federal case, Tanco v. Haslam, saw a victory for the gay couples at the District Court level before the Sixth Circuit loss.

The Supreme Court could decide sometime in January whether or not to take up any (or all) of the marriage equality cases before the court. Or, the justices could defer a decision indefinitely.

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Matt Baume