Same-sex marriage in Tennessee

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Same-sex marriage in the U.S. state of Tennessee became legal with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26, 2015. That day, Governor Bill Haslam announced the state would follow the judicial order, and same-sex couples began to marry in Tennessee.[1]

Same-sex marriage[edit]


In 1996, Tennessee enacted a statutory ban on same-sex marriage.[2] This ban was overturned by the Supreme Court of the United States on June 26, 2015.


On May 6, 2004, the state House of Representatives approved by a vote of 85-5 Amendment 1, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. On May 19, the state Senate approved it by a vote of 28-1. The next year, on February 28, 2005, the Senate approved it by a vote of 29-3. On March 17, the House approved it by a vote of 88-7.[3] On November 7, 2006, Tennessee voters approved the amendment by a vote of 81.3% to 18.7%.[4]

Traditional Marriage Day[edit]

On March 25, 2013, the Tennessee Senate voted 32-0 in favor of a non-binding resolution making August 31 Traditional Marriage Day in Tennessee. On April 18, the Tennessee House of Representatives voted 89-0 in favor of the resolution. Governor Bill Haslam signed the resolution into law on May 2.[5]

Federal lawsuit[edit]

Tanco v. Haslam[edit]

On October 21, 2013, the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed a lawsuit in U.S. district court on behalf of several same-sex couples in Tennessee. The case, Tanco v. Haslam, sought to require the state to recognize their marriages established in California and New York. On March 14, 2014, U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger granted a preliminary injunction requiring the state to recognize the marriages of the plaintiff couples.[6] The state defendants appealed Tanco to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which granted a stay. A three-judge panel heard oral arguments in the case on August 6, 2014, along with same-sex marriage cases originating from Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky.[7] The Sixth Circuit ultimately ruled in favor of the states and upheld the bans on November 6, 2014.[8]

Tanco was incorporated into Obergefell v. Hodges and decided along with several other Sixth Circuit court cases related to the legality of state bans on same-sex marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26, 2015. In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court reversed the Sixth Circuit's judgment and struck down Tennessee's ban.[1][9]

After Obergefell v. Hodges[edit]


On January 20, 2016, a House subcommittee rejected a bill, the Natural Marriage Defense Act, which sought to overrule the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The bill died in a 4-1 vote. Representative Mike Carter had concerns over the legal basis for ignoring the Supreme Court's ruling, labeling it "nullification". Carter was joined by another Republican and two Democrats in rejecting the bill.[10]

On February 8, 2017, the Natural Marriage Defense Act was reintroduced to the Tennessee Legislature. The bill was sponsored by 13 lawmakers, all Republicans. According to legislative analysts, the bill would have cost the state over 9 million U.S. dollars if approved. LGBT activists called the bill unconstitutional and a violation of Obergefell v. Hodges.[11] On March 29, a House subcommittee decided to delay debate on the bill until at least 2018.[12][13] In January 2018, the bill was withdrawn,[14][15] but was reintroduced in February 2019.[16]

Status of counties[edit]

Initially, the following Tennessee counties did not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples: Decatur, Grundy, Marion, Obion and Warren, but all of them have since relented.

By June 30, 2015, all of Tennessee's 95 counties were either issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples or had announced their willingness to do so.[17]

Legal challenges[edit]

In January 2016, a conservative lawyer filed a lawsuit in Williamson County seeking to stop same-sex marriages in Tennessee. A similar lawsuit was filed in Bradley County in February.[18]

In June 2016, a Williamson County judge, while declaring his personal opposition to Obergefell v. Hodges, dismissed the lawsuit filed in January. The judge determined that the plaintiffs could not show they had been harmed by the Obergefell ruling.[19] This decision was upheld by the Tennessee Court of Appeals in May 2018.[20] The court's opinion said: "None of the citizen plaintiffs alleged that they were denied a marriage license; instead, they complain of the issuance of marriage license to others."

The Bradley County lawsuit, which was originally filed by David Fowler (president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee), on behalf of a local pastor and a county commissioner, sought to prevent the county clerk from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Fowler accused the Supreme Court of "usurping" the Tennessee Legislature's right to define marriage, and that because the Legislature has yet to modify its marriage-related laws, all marriages performed since Obergefell (whether same-sex or opposite-sex) are invalid. The county clerk had requested that the case be dismissed. A hearing on whether to dismiss the lawsuit was held in December 2017.[21] In March 2018, House Republicans killed a proposed bill to ban child marriages due to opposition from the Family Action Council of Tennessee, who feared that the bill could interfere with their lawsuit. The move received considerable media coverage. Representative Darren Jernigan, the bill's main sponsor, said: "Basically, what has happened is the Family Action Council wants to continue to let 13-year-olds get married in the state at the sake of their court case against same-sex couples. It's disgraceful. I'm embarrassed for the State of Tennessee, and I can only pray that we bring this back next year and not let them get in the way."[22] The bill was revived due to political pressure, passed, and signed into law in May 2018 by Governor Haslam, preventing anyone younger than 17 from marrying in Tennessee.[23] Eventually, the case was dismissed by a circuit court judge in March 2019. According to the Cleveland Daily Banner, the lawsuit cost the county between 15,000 and 70,000 dollars.[24]

Resolutions of support/opposition[edit]

In September 2015, the Greene County Commission passed a resolution expressing opposition to same-sex marriage.[25] Similar resolutions were subsequently approved in the counties of Carter, Dickson, Hawkins, Johnson, McMinn, Morgan, Sullivan and Unicoi.[26][27][28] Hamblen and Washington counties rejected such resolutions.[29][30] Davidson County, on the other hand, approved a resolution expressing support for same-sex marriage and asked state lawmakers to reject anti-gay bills.[31]

On March 3, 2016, the state House passed a resolution expressing opposition and disagreement with the Supreme Court ruling. The resolution was approved in a 73-18 vote.[32]

Marriage statistics[edit]

From June 26, 2015 to early February 2016, 101 same-sex marriage licenses were issued in Hamilton County, accounting for 7% of all licenses. Neighboring counties including Bradley and Rhea issued 12 and 3, respectively.[33]

Domestic partnerships[edit]

Certain jurisdictions in Tennessee provide for the creation of private domestic partnership contracts agreements.[34] Governor Bill Haslam and State House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick both said there was no huge demand for domestic partnerships in Tennessee.[35]

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


In August 2013, the Collegedale City Commission voted 4-1 in favor of allowing domestic partnership benefits for same-sex couples in the city of Collegedale. The law went into effect on January 1, 2014.[36]


In October 2013, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero created a domestic partnership program for the city. It went into effect on January 1, 2014.[37]


On November 12, 2013, the Chattanooga City Council voted 5-4 in favor of allowing domestic partnership benefits for same-sex couples in the city of Chattanooga.[38] On November 19, 2013, the City Council in a final vote, voted 5-3 in favor of allowing domestic partnership benefits.[39]

Before the domestic partnership ordinance went into effect,[40] the Citizens for Government Accountability and Transparency, a local segment of the Tea Party, gathered enough signatures to put a repeal of the ordinance to a popular vote in August 2014.[41][42] The City Council did not repeal the ordinance on its own, allowing the vote to proceed on August 7, the general election date for Hamilton County.[43]

A December 2013 Multi-Quest poll found that 53% Chattanooga registers voters opposed the city ordinance allowing domestic partnerships and adding sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to the city’s nondiscrimination policy, while 37% supported.[44]

On August 7, 2014, the voters of Chattanooga repealed Ordinance 12781 was by a vote of 62.58% in favor and 37.42% against.[45]

Nashville and Davidson County[edit]

On June 17, 2014, the Metro Council voted 27-7, in a third and final reading, in favor of allowing domestic partnership benefits for same-sex couples in the city of Nashville and Davidson County. On June 25, 2014, Mayor Karl Dean signed the ordinance into law.[46][47]

Public opinion[edit]

A January 2011 poll by Vanderbilt University found that 26.7% of respondents favored same-sex marriage, with 69.4% opposed.[48]

A March 2013 poll by Middle Tennessee State University showed 62% of respondents opposed same-sex marriage, with 28% in support.[49]

A May 2013 poll by Vanderbilt University survey of Tennessee registered voters found that 49% of Tennessee voters supported the legal recognition of same-sex couples, with 32% supporting same-sex marriage, 17% supporting civil unions but not marriage, 46% favoring no legal recognition, 3% said they don't know, and 2% refused to answer. It also found that 69% of Tennessee voters under the age of 30 supported the legal recognition of same-sex couples.[50] A separate question on the same survey found that 62% of Tennessee voters supported domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples, 31% opposed, 4% said they don't know, and 2% refused to answer.[51]

A February 2014 poll by Middle Tennessee State University showed 26% of Tennessee voters supported same-sex marriage, with 64% opposed. The level of opposition was 62% in the same survey conducted a year earlier.[52]

A February 2015 poll by Middle Tennessee State University showed 55% of Tennessee voters opposed same-sex marriage.[53]

A November 2015 poll by Middle Tennessee State University showed 57% of Tennessee voters opposed same-sex marriage, with 29% in favor of such unions.[54]

A November 2016 poll by Vanderbilt University showed support for same-sex marriage at 32%, with 45% against such unions.[55]

The year 2016 was the first year a poll showed more support for same-sex marriage than opposition. The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that 46% of Tennesseans supported same-sex marriage, while 43% opposed it and 11% were unsure or undecided.[56] In 2017, the PRRI found similar figures: 46% in support, 45% in opposition and 9% unsure or undecided.[57]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Barchenger, Stacey (June 26, 2015). "Same-sex marriages begin in Nashville after Supreme Court ruling". Retrieved June 26, 2015.
  2. ^ State Laws Prohibiting Recognition of Same-Sex Relationships
  3. ^ Bill Information for SJR0031. Tennessee General Assembly.
  4. ^ Davey, Monica (November 9, 2006). "Liberals Find Rays of Hope on Ballot Measures". New York Times. Retrieved September 21, 2014.
  5. ^ "Tennessee Dedicates 'Traditional Marriage Day,' While Gay Marriage Remains Banned". The Huffington Post. April 24, 2013.
  6. ^ Snow, Justin (March 14, 2014). "Tennessee ordered to recognize same-sex couples' marriages". Metro Weekly. Archived from the original on March 15, 2014. Retrieved March 14, 2014.
  7. ^ Keen, Lisa (August 7, 2014). "Sixth Circuit GOP judges: Why not let the voters decide who gets to marry?". Keen News Service. Retrieved August 14, 2014.
  8. ^ Margolin, Emma (November 6, 2014). "6th Circuit upholds same-sex marriage bans". MSNBC. Retrieved June 26, 2015.
  9. ^ Glum, Julia (June 26, 2015). "Gay Marriage Supreme Court Decision: Same-Sex Couples Can Marry After Obergefell v. Hodges Ruling". International Business Times. Retrieved June 26, 2015.
  10. ^ "Tennessee House Panel Rejects Natural Marriage Defense Act". The Advocate. January 21, 2016.
  11. ^ 'Natural Marriage' bill could cost Tennessee over $9B
  12. ^ 'Natural Marriage' act delayed until next year
  13. ^ TN HB0892 | 2017-2018 | 110th General Assembly
  14. ^ Tennessee bill against same-sex marriage back in the General Assembly
  15. ^ Tennessee House Bill 892
  16. ^ "Bill banning gay marriage introduced in Tennessee". WVLT-TV. February 18, 2019.
  17. ^ Stacey Barchenger (30 June 2015). "All TN counties ready to issue gay marriage licenses". The Tennessean.
  18. ^ Walton, Judy (February 4, 2016). "Gay marriage back on radar with new Bradley County lawsuit". Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  19. ^ Judge dismisses one state lawsuit against same-sex marriage
  20. ^ Appellate court dismisses anti same-sex marriage lawsuit against Williamson County Clerk, Tennessean, May 25, 2018
  21. ^ Bradley County clerk seeks dismissal of marriage-license lawsuit
  22. ^ House Republicans effectively kill anti-child marriage bill, cite possible case against gay marriage, March 7, 2018, The Tennessean
  23. ^ "Gov. Bill Haslam signs law banning Tennessee marriage of minors under 17". The Tennessean. Retrieved 2018-05-31.
  24. ^ Tim Siniard (March 16, 2019). "Same-sex marriage license lawsuit dismissed". Cleveland Daily Banner.
  25. ^ Greene County commissioners pass resolution opposing same-sex marriage
  26. ^ Washington County drafts resolution opposing same-sex marriage
  27. ^ Dickson Co. Commissioners Pass Resolution Against Same-Sex Marriage
  28. ^ Hawkins County approves antigay marriage resolution
  29. ^ Washington Co., Tennessee narrowly rejects same-sex marriage resolution
  30. ^ Anti-same-sex-marriage resolution fails in Hamblen County
  31. ^ Nashville council asks state to oppose anti-gay marriage bills
  32. ^ Tennessee House passes resolution criticizing same-sex marriage decision
  34. ^ "Domestic Partnerships". She Moskovitz & Mcghee. Archived from the original on 2013-10-23.
  35. ^ "No Tennessee plans for same-sex benefits". September 8, 2013.
  36. ^ "Collegedale first TN city to offer benefits to same-sex domestic partners". Aug 6, 2013.
  37. ^ "Knoxville expanding employee benefits to same-sex, domestic partners". WBIR. October 17, 2013.
  38. ^ "City Council Passes Controversial Domestic Partners Ordinance". November 12, 2013.
  39. ^ "In final vote, Chattanooga City Council approves same sex benefits". November 19, 2013.
  40. ^ "City Ordinance Ready That Grants "Domestic Partners" Same Healthcare, Medical Benefits". November 1, 2013.
  41. ^ "Chattanooga Tea Party Hosting Forum on Domestic Partnership Ordinance". November 15, 2013.
  42. ^ "Petitions block Chattanooga's new domestic partner benefits law". December 14, 2013.
  43. ^ "Chattanooga residents to vote on domestic partner benefits". January 8, 2014.
  44. ^ "Poll: Chattanooga voters oppose domestic partnership ordinance". January 8, 2014.
  45. ^ Ordinance 12781 Archived 2014-08-09 at the Wayback Machine
  46. ^ "Metro Council approves domestic partner benefits". The Tennessean. June 17, 2014. Retrieved August 21, 2014.
  47. ^ Mayor Signs Domestic Partner Benefits Into Law
  48. ^ "RESULTS OF JANUARY 2011 VANDERBILT POLL" (PDF). Vanderbilt University. Retrieved February 24, 2019.
  49. ^ "Poll: 62 percent in Tennessee against gay marriage". The Knoxville News Sentinel. March 5, 2013.
  50. ^ "In Tennessee, Gay Marriage Has Young Doubting Republicans". Bloomberg. Jun 3, 2013.
  51. ^ "END OF LEGISLATIVE SESSION 2013" (PDF). Vanderbilt University. May 14, 2013.
  52. ^ "Tennesseans open to allowing medical marijuana use" (PDF). Feb 13, 2014.
  53. ^ "Poll: TN split on abortion rules, against gay marriage". Feb 8, 2015.
  54. ^ "Poll: Most Tennesseans oppose same-sex marriage". Nov 9, 2015.
  55. ^ Patterson, Jim. "Vanderbilt Poll: Tennesseans optimistic as Trump era begins". Vanderbilt University. Retrieved 2016-12-22.
  56. ^ Public opinion on same-sex marriage by state
  57. ^ Public opinion on same-sex marriage by state: Tennessee