After the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling, at least one Tennessee county court clerk announced he will no longer perform marriage ceremonies, reports the Times-Free Press in an article reviewing ramifications of the ruling for those who perform marriages.
The article begins with the hypothetical situation of a gay couple asking Gov. Bill Haslam to perform the marriage ceremony. He’s one of many state and local officials authorized to perform weddings under state law — though the governor rarely does so, notably in presiding over wedding ceremonies for a son and daughter. But others do so routinely — especially many court clerks, who issue marriage licenses.
“Officials authorized to conduct ceremonies may do so at their discretion,” Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III said last week. “There’s no obligation under state law to solemnize a state marriage. Our statute says an official ‘may’ solemnize the rite of marriage.”
…But now, any public official who performs marriages must not discriminate between male-female and same-sex couples, Slatery said. Though he criticized the Supreme Court’s decision, Slatery told Tennessee officials on Friday to begin issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples.
“[In] light of the decision clearly establishing a constitutional right to marry, we think that the wise decision is to comply with the case and promptly issue the marriage licenses,” he advised county clerks.
“Our best advice in these instances is pretty simple: Do not discriminate. That’s the holding of the court today.”
…*T)he governor or other public officials who perform occasional ceremonies for relatives and close friends probably wouldn’t be affected, said Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, which advocates on behalf of gay, lesbian and transgender people.
“My guess is that the governor would probably get a lot more leeway than a clerk would,” Sanders said. “It’s not that that’s written in the code anywhere. It’s just since the governor isn’t doing too many to begin with, he’d probably stick to the natural proposition that he’s doing it for close family and friends, and on that basis it’s not discriminary on the basis of they are or aren’t a same-sex couple.”
But, Sanders said, “Ask him how many of his friends are gay.”
…Wayne County Clerk Stan Horton on Friday signed and posted a “to whom it may concern” notice that quickly made the rounds on social media: “As of June 26, 2015 there will be no marriage ceremonies performed in the Wayne County Clerk’s office by Clerk Stan Horton neither will marriages be performed by deputy clerk’s [sic], this decision not only reflects inside the office but also outside the boundaries of the office.”
..Sanders said the Equality Project has heard that one or two other clerks may stop performing marriages.
…Tennessee lawmakers had passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act that was intended to ensure business’ religious freedom rights regarding same-sex ceremonies.
“Well, I think that remains to be seen,” Slatery told reporters. “Obviously, any exercise by the state or state officials may be subject to some scrutiny if they were doing that under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”
There are arguments whether ministers, rabbis and imams would have to perform same-sex ceremonies. Sanders said they wouldn’t, but others, including Slatery, said there could be issues down the road.
Note: Related post on two Republican legislators proposing a “Pastor Protection Act” is HERE.