Tennessee allows officials to refuse to ‘solemnize’ a marriage, sparking concern for queer couples

Community, Gay, Identity, lesbian, LGBT, LGBTQ, non-binary, Pansexual, Politics, Queer, Tennessee, Trans, US, Weddings

Public officials in Tennessee are now able to refuse to marry anyone at their discretion for any reason, sparking concern for gay couples applying for a marriage license.

Republican Governor Bill Lee signed House Bill 878 into law on 21 February, which went into effect immediately. The bill states that “a person shall not be required to solemnize a marriage“.

According to the state code, only notary publics, government officials and religious figures can officiate a marriage in Tennessee. 

State Representative Monty Fritts, who sponsored the bill in the House, said to CNN in February last year regarding the bill: “As societal views change about what constitutes a marriage, officiants must be able to refuse to solemnize marriages that are contrary to their beliefs”

“The government has a responsibility to protect the exercise of religious beliefs. Those with the authority to perform civil ceremonies would also be permitted to refuse to solemnize marriage for reasons of conscience.”

While the law does not provide a blanket ban on gay marriage licenses in Tennessee, legal experts believe that the law highlights that such rights for the LGBTQ+ community “are always at risk”.

Anthony Snyder, former mediator and current Divorce Specialist at amicable, told PinkNews: “Sadly, the recent news about Tennessee is a stark reminder of how we can never assume progress is permanent. 

“The [law] is a massive step backwards and highlights that the hard-fought rights of the LGBTQ+ community are always at risk,” Snyder added.

“Equal rights means exactly that. The laws which govern marriage and divorce should be applied without discrimination. If this can happen in America, one of the most developed countries in the world, what’s to stop other countries from following suit?

“If the marriages of those who identify as LGBTQ+ are now at risk, it’s hard to believe they will stop there. We cannot assume that other rights are protected and need to think about how this may impact parental responsibilities and children as well. 

“Marriage and equal relationship rights shouldn’t be a luxury, everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation should be able to start, and end a marriage as and when they please,” he concluded.

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