Category Archives: sexual orientation

53 GOP legislators want to intervene in same-sex divorce

Fifty-three Republican state legislators have teamed with a Christian conservative group in trying to become involved in the pending divorce of two Knoxville women who are arguing over child custody.

The Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT) announced Friday that its legal arm, known as the Constitutional Government Defense Fund, is representing the legislators in filing a motion to intervene in the divorce case of Sabrina Renae Witt vs. Erica Christine Witt.

The motion contends the legislators’ “unique and substantial interest in the legislative power and process will be impeded, impaired, and/or nullified” if courts interpret a state law “to apply to any persons other than a man and woman joined together as ‘husband’ and ‘wife.”

Knox County Circuit Court Judge Greg McMillan ruled in June that Erica Witt has no legal rights under Tennessee law to involvement with a daughter born to Sabrina Witt through artificial insemination, as reported by the News Sentinel at the time. The couple were legally married at Washington, D.C., in April of 2014, when same-sex marriage was prohibited in Tennessee. There is still no state law on the books authorizing same-sex marriages, but they were validated by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year. Continue reading

TN commentary on transgender bathroom ruling

A federal judge in Texas today blocked the Obama administration’s order that requires public schools to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their chosen gender identity. And, naturally, Tennesseans on both sides of the issue are promptly providing media with press releases giving their perspective — just like folks in the rest of the nation.

Here’s a sampler: Continue reading

ACLU settles lawsuit over student’s shirt slogan

News release from ACLU of Tennessee
NASHVILLE — In a victory for free speech, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee announced a settlement in a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Richland High School graduate Rebecca Young, who was censored by her school system for wearing a shirt to school supporting equality for lesbian and gay people. The Giles County school system has modified its discriminatory dress code policy that banned pro-LGBT speech.

“This is a victory not just for one student’s right to free speech, but for all students in the Giles County school system,” said Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU-TN legal director. “Our settlement reinforces that students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gates. We are pleased that Giles County students will no longer face unjust censorship if they choose to express support for the LGBT community while at school.”

The lawsuit, Rebecca Young v. Giles County Board of Education, et al., stemmed from an incident on August 5, 2015, when Young wore a shirt to school that read, “Some People Are Gay, Get Over It.” At the end of the school day, the principal publicly reprimanded Young for wearing the shirt, telling her that she could not wear that shirt or any other shirt referencing lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender rights to school because it supposedly made her a target and provoked other students. Young had worn the shirt the entire day without incident. Continue reading

Transgender Tennessean to keep Democrats timely

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The first transgender person to be named to a Tennessee government board or commission has been named the official podium timekeeper at the Democratic National Convention.

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry appointed Marisa Richmond to the Metro Human Relations Commission in May. Richmond is a Nashville resident, a professor in the history department at Middle Tennessee State University and former president of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition.

State Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini said Monday that she was thrilled by Richmond’s selection for the timekeeping role. Mancini said Richmond has been “one of the strongest advocates for the LGBTQ community in Tennessee and across the country for many years.”

The 17-member commission in Nashville oversees the human relations department, which is tasked with resolving discrimination complaints and carrying out educational programs.

News release from Tennessee Democratic Party:
Philadelphia, Pa (July 25 2016) — The Chair of the State Democrats (Mary Mancini) comments on the selection of Tennessean, Marisa Richmond, as the official podium timekeeper at the Democratic National Convention.

“I am thrilled that Hillary for America and the DNC have chosen a great leader, advocate and Tennessean to be the official podium timekeeper. Marisa has been one of the strongest advocates for the LGBTQ community in Tennessee and across the country for many years. She is a shining example of what makes Tennessee and the Democratic Party the Party of the people.”

TN judge rules on parental rights in same-sex divorce case

In the first ruling of its kind in Tennessee, a Knox County judge on Friday decided that the same-sex spouse of a woman giving birth to a child by artificial insemination has no legal rights or obligations to the baby after a divorce.

Further from the News-Sentinel:

“I believe this is a situation where (Erica Witt) has no biological relationship with this child, has no contractual relationship with this child,” 4th Circuit Court Judge Greg McMillan ruled.

Erica Witt and Sabrina Witt legally wed in Washington, D.C., in April 2014, bought a home in Knoxville and decided to have a child via artificial insemination from an anonymous donor. Sabrina Witt bore a baby girl as a result in January 2015. Because Tennessee did not then recognize same-sex marriage as legal, Erica Witt’s name was not placed on the baby’s birth certificate.

In February, Sabrina Witt filed for divorce. Her attorney, John Harber, contended the only law on Tennessee’s books addressing parenting rights in the case of artificial insemination — enacted in 1977 — makes clear the law applies only to husbands.

“That terminology is not interchangeable,” Harber argued at a hearing Friday.

Tennessee still doesn’t have a law on the books officially recognizing same-sex marriage but is essentially under a mandate to do so due to a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year recognizing the rights of same-sex couples to marry. That ruling did not address divorce or parental rights in a divorce in which neither same-sex partner legally adopted the child they call their own.

Erica Witt’s attorney, Virginia Schwamm, contends the same reasoning used by the nation’s high court in marriage applies in divorce and custody matters.

“The argument that marriage may only consist of a ‘husband’ and a ‘wife’ has been held to be unconstitutional,” Schwamm said. “(Tennessee marriage certificates) still (indicate) male and female, but surely that no longer applies. Just because the statute reads man and woman, this court can interpret the statute in a manner that makes it constitutional.”

…Schwamm called the language of husband and wife outdated and urged McMillan to simply update it via his ruling, just as court clerks’ offices across the state are now revamping all manner of domestic forms, from marriage certificates to divorce petitions, to accommodate same-sex couples.

…But McMillan said it was not up to the courts to enact “social policy” via legal rulings and a strict reading of the artificial insemination law tied his hands in this case.

“I believe as a trial court I am not to plow new ground, but to apply precedent and the law,” McMillan said.

He is allowing Schwamm to appeal, putting the divorce action on hold pending a decision by the Tennessee Court of Appeals on whether to hear the issue.

“Given the novelty of this issue, the court thinks it appropriate to see if the appellate courts want to address this,” he said.

Nashville approves unisex restrooms for businesses

Nashville businesses with single-toilet restrooms are no longer required to have one facility specifically for women and another just for men, reports The Tennessean.

The Metro Council voted unanimously on a final of three readings Tuesday to broaden exceptions for unisex restrooms, which are only allowed in Nashville businesses that fall below a square-footage threshold.

The ordinance was introduced by Councilman Brett Withers, who filed the bill last month after learning that the owners of Wild Cow, a vegetarian restaurant in his East Nashville district, were warned by Metro codes inspectors that they could not have unisex restrooms in a new restaurant the couple is planning nearby called Graze.

He said he later learned that several restaurants and businesses were technically in violation of a law that few realized existed.

“This just allows businesses who choose to do so to go ahead and make all of their single-user restroom facilities available to males and females,” Withers said.

“It (also) accommodates folks who might be transgender or might have a gender expression that doesn’t line up with traditional gender expectations in terms of hair style or clothing style,” said Withers, who is one of two openly gay members on the council. “It helps people to avoid having that kind of discussion or examination.”

The new law, which was signed by Mayor Megan Barry on Wednesday, authorizes unisex restrooms at most businesses that have two or more bathroom facilities that each consist of single toilets and have locks..

Judge dismisses one state lawsuit against same-sex marriage

A Williamson County judge says last summer’s same-sex marriage ruling represents one of the worst examples of courts “ignoring their proper role” and legislating from the bench, reports WPLN. But he’s nonetheless thrown out a long-shot attempt to overturn the Supreme Court decision.

Chancellor Joseph Woodruff accused five Supreme Court justices of overturning the will of democratically elected state lawmakers. ut Woodruff added he wasn’t going to make the same mistake by trying to reverse their decision to strike down state bans on same-sex marriage. Woodruff said if anyone was going to respond to the Obergefell v. Hodges decision with new laws, it ought to be state lawmakers.

“Our function is to apply the law, not to create it,” Woodruff said of judges. “The present lawsuit invites us to answer the legislative excesses of the Supreme Court with legislation of our own. This we must not do.”

That spells the end to one of the suits filed by conservative lawyer David Fowler that tries to challenge the same-sex marriage ruling.

Fowler argued that when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state bans on same-sex marriages, it took the rest of Tennessee’s marriage laws down with it. That means all marriage in Tennessee is invalid — not just the state’s ban on gay marriage.

But Woodruff determined the plaintiffs — three ministers and two other people who live in Williamson County — couldn’t show they’d been harmed by the Obergefell ruling. That means they couldn’t sue the Williamson County clerk and other authorities for issuing marriage licenses.

Note: Fowler commentary via email below. Continue reading

Rep. Lynn gets celebrity slap at Bonnaroo

State Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, sponsor of Tennessee’s controversial transgender bathroom bill, was directly targeted for celebrity criticism at the Bonnaroo concert by Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, reports The Tennessean.

“Susan Lynn — she’s promised to bring it back when the session resumes in the fall,” Vedder said from stage to the thousands gathered to hear the headlining set at the four-day music festival.

“Well Susan, I don’t know Susan, do you know Susan?,” Vedder asked the locals in the crowd. “She’s your representative. You want her to represent you, yeah?

“Susan, I’m just going to say something as nice as I can to Susan.

“Dear Susan: Susan there’s a timeline right? This is the present. You’re all in the present. I can see you’re in present. I am in the present. This is past. And that’s the future is this way. You don’t want to preclude us from getting into the future. I want you to be on the right side of the future.

“Because this generation, this generation, and the ones to come they’re more tolerant, they’re more understanding, they’re more empathetic of others. And Susan you can either be part of history or you can be history. These people want you to make the right decision, am I correct?

“Let Susan know,” he pled to the crowd, who cheered and clapped.

“Susan’s made a promise to do this, we want to tell Susan: Susan, look, it’s OK in this case to break your promise. You’d be very proud, I believe.”

Then the band launched into their hit Daughter.

TN politicians on Orlando: Haslam lowers flags; Cohen calls for assault weapon ban

Gov. Bill Haslam has announced – via tweet – that at flags at the Tennessee state Capitol and other state buildings will be flown at half staff through Thursday “in memory of victims of violent attack in Orlando.”

Here are some other Tennessee reactions to the Orlando shootings on Sunday from Tennessee political figures:

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) via press release:
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today released the following statement after the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL.

“I am saddened and horrified by the mass shooting in Orlando,” said Congressman Cohen. “My thoughts go out to the victims and their families as well as all members of the LGBT community everywhere who were targeted in this tragedy. This was a hate crime and likely as well an act of terrorism. While the shooter is reported to have vowed allegiance to the leader of ISIS and is Muslim, we must not do what ISIS wants and tie one deranged, mentally ill murderer to others who share his religion. As Muhammad Ali said, ‘Islam is not about San Bernardino, Belgium or Paris…,’ nor is it about Orlando.

“I call on Speaker Ryan to bring a bill to the House floor banning all assault weapons and high capacity magazines. Outside of our military, no one in this country needs an assault rifle to defend themselves or their homes. They are often used in these mass shootings. Also as Congress continues the appropriations process, we must allocate more federal funding for mental health treatments and centers.” Continue reading

Vanderbilt transgender surgery coverage berated by Black

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Vanderbilt University officials say the school’s student insurance will start covering transgender-related surgeries in order to make the campus a more inclusive environment for students who previously had gone without necessary care.

Vanderbilt Vice Provost for Learning and Residential Affairs Cynthia Cyrus tells The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/1XEOLNvA ) that the change was made after a routine annual review of the university’s health care plan for students.

Vanderbilt’s plan has covered hormone therapy for transgender students for several years.

Nonprofit advocacy group Campus Pride says 71 universities across the country already offer the coverage.

The University of Tennessee at Knoxville’s insurance policy covers neither transgender-related surgeries nor hormone therapy.

Press release from U.S. Rep. Diane Black:

Washington, D.C. – Today Congressman Diane Black (R-TN-06) responded to Vanderbilt University’s decision to add hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery to its student insurance policy. Black released the following statement:

“Let’s be honest, this decision is not about the health and wellbeing of Vanderbilt University students, it is about the political agenda of liberal university administrators,” said Congressman Diane Black. “Our institutions of higher learning exist to graduate students who are career ready and are prepared to compete in the global economy, not to play politics by providing insurance coverage of medically unnecessary procedures while raking in federal grants. With this stunt, Vanderbilt University has shown itself to be completely out of touch with the values of most Tennesseans and has surely alienated more than a few students, parents, and donors. I’m especially concerned that, by the university’s own admission, this decision was ‘not deeply debated in any way’ – showing just how little thought went in to such a far-reaching policy. For all the advanced degrees that exist among Vanderbilt University’s senior administration, there is a painfully obvious lack of commonsense.”