LGBT rights in Tennessee

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LGBT rights in Tennessee
Map of USA TN.svg
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Legal since 1996
(Campbell v. Sundquist)
Gender identity/expression Birth certificates cannot be altered due to the Vital Records Act of 1977
Discrimination protections Sexual orientation, gender identity for the cities of Nashville, Memphis, and Knoxville.
Family rights
Recognition of
Same-sex marriage legal
Adoption Yes

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Tennesseans face some legal challenges that non-LGBT Tennesseans do not. Same-sex sexual activity is legal in the state. Marriage licenses are issued to same-sex couples in Tennessee since the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26, 2015.

Sodomy law[edit]

The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled the state's sodomy statute unconstitutional in 1996 in the case of Campbell v. Sundquist.[1]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]


Prior to being overturned, Tennessee recognized neither same-sex marriages nor any other form of legal recognition of same sex-unions. The state banned same-sex marriage both by statute and by constitutional amendment. That ban was overturned by the Supreme Court of the United States on June 26, 2015.

Domestic partnership[edit]

Map of Tennessee counties and cities that offer domestic partner benefits either county-wide or in particular cities.
  City offers domestic partner benefits
  County-wide partner benefits through domestic partnership
  County or city does not offer domestic partner benefits

The cities of Collegedale[2] and Knoxville[3] together with the Metropolitan Area of Nashville and Davidson County[4][5] have enacted domestic partnership benefits for same-sex couples.

Adoption and parenting[edit]

Tennessee allows single persons to adopt children. Same-sex couples may legally adopt in the state. In 2007, the Tennessee Attorney General released an opinion that adoption by same-sex couples was not prohibited by state statute, and could be done if in the child's best interest.[6][7]

Discrimination protection[edit]

Map of Tennessee counties and cities that have sexual orientation and/or gender identity anti–employment discrimination ordinances circa 2016
  Sexual orientation and gender identity solely in public employment
  Sexual orientation in public employment
  Does not protect sexual orientation and gender identity in employment

Tennessee law does not prohibit discrimination of the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. [8]

The cities of Knoxville[9] and Memphis,[10] together with the Metropolitan Area of Nashville and Davidson County[11] have ordinances prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Tennessee Board of Regents[12] has established a policy of non-discrimination with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity in employment and for students, while the University of Tennessee System[13][14][15][16][17] covers sexual orientation only.

In response to Nashville's legislation, on May 12, 2011, the state Senate voted 20-8 in favor of the Equal Access to Interstate Commerce Act, which prohibits local governments from supplementing, modifying, or deviating from the state's anti-discriminatory definitions, laws, and practices. On May 18, 2011, the House of Representatives voted 70-26 in favor of the bill. On May 24, 2011, Governor Bill Haslam signed the bill into law.[18] LGBT rights activists brought a lawsuit in state court challenging the statute, Howe v. Haslam. They lost in the trial court and appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals which, on November 4, 2014, dismissed the suit after finding the plaintiffs lacked standing.[19]

Hate crime[edit]

Tennessee law has punished hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation since 2001, but the law does not include gender identity, though it is covered by federal hate crime laws.[20]

Gender reassignment[edit]

Further information: Vital Records Act of 1977

In 1977, the Tennessee state legislature passed a birth certificate statute that prohibits the state from altering the sex on birth certificates for transgender people.[21]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (since 1996)
Equal age of consent Yes
Anti-discrimination state laws for sexual orientation No
Anti-discrimination state laws for gender identity or expression No
Hate crime laws include sexual orientation Yes
Hate crime laws include gender identity or expression No
Step adoption by same-sex couples Yes
Joint adoption by same-sex couples Yes
Access to IVF for lesbians Emblem-question.svg Not technically specified
Same-sex marriages Yes
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ American Psychological Association: Campbell v. Sundquist, 926 S.W.2d 255, accessed April 9, 2011
  2. ^ "Collegedale first TN city to offer benefits to same-sex domestic partners". Aug 6, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Knoxville expanding employee benefits to same-sex, domestic partners". WBIR. October 17, 2013. 
  4. ^ Metro Council approves domestic partner benefits
  5. ^ Mayor Signs Domestic Partner Benefits Into Law
  6. ^ Human Rights Campaign: "Tennessee Adoption Law", accessed April 9, 2011
  7. ^
  8. ^ State of Tennessee "Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act", accessed June 17, 2016
  9. ^ Witt, Gerald (May 1, 2012). "Knoxville City Council passes anti-discrimination ordinance". Knoxville News Sentinel. Retrieved May 1, 2012. 
  10. ^ "Memphis includes gays under anti-discrimination". Knoxville News Sentinel. Associated Press. October 17, 2012. Retrieved October 17, 2012. The Memphis City Council has included sexual orientation and gender identity in an ordinance that bans discrimination in city hiring. 
  11. ^ "Statement of Non-Discrimination". Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County. Retrieved April 14, 2012. 
  12. ^ "Discrimination & Harassment - Complaint & Investigation Procedure : P-080". Tennessee Board of Regents. Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  13. ^ "EEO/AA Statement /Non-Discrimination Statement". University of Tennessee. Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  14. ^ "File a Complaint". University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  15. ^ "Office of Equity & Diversity". University of Tennessee at Martin. Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  16. ^ "UTHSC Office of Equity and Diversity". University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  17. ^ "EEO/AA Statement /Non-Discrimination Statement" (PDF). University of Tennessee Space Institute. Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  18. ^ Equal Access to Interstate Commerce Act
  19. ^ "Civil Litigation - Tennessee" (PDF). Lesbian / Gay Law Notes. New York Law School: 510–511. December 2014. 
  20. ^ Tennessee Hate Crimes Law at Human Rights Campaign.
  21. ^ "Transgender Legal History". Retrieved 2013-10-22. 

External links[edit]