Tennessee's Gay Marriage Ban Is Constitutional, Judge Rules; Breaks Streak of Ban Losses

Supporters of gay marriage hold rainbow-colored flags as they rally in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on March 27, 2013.
Supporters of gay marriage hold rainbow-colored flags as they rally in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on March 27, 2013. | (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

A judge has ruled that Tennessee's constitutional amendment banning legal recognition of same-sex marriage is legal, breaking a streak of judicial losses for the traditional marriage side.

Circuit Court Judge Russell E. Simmons Jr. ruled last week against the claim that the state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

In his decision, Simmons cited the 1972 case Baker v. Nelson, a lesser known decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court, arguing that gay marriage is not a fundamental right.

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"Baker holds that a state's law on same-sex marriage does not violate the equal protection or substantive due process rights under the United States Constitution," wrote Simmons in his memorandum opinion.

"Although the United States Supreme Court has had opportunities to overrule the Baker decision, it has refused to take that position even in the decision on which the plaintiff relies, which is United States v. Windsor."

The decision is the first since the 2013 Supreme Court decision Windsor v. United States to rule that a state marriage amendment was constitutional.

Last year, the highest court in the land ruled five to four that a key component of the federal Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional.

While the decision did not comment on the constitutionality of state-level same-sex marriage bans, judges across the nation have concluded in the past several months that various state's bans violate the constitution.

In 2006, Tennessee was one of multiple states in the U.S. to have a majority of voters approve a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Known as Amendment 1, the ballot initiative passed overwhelmingly with 81 percent of voters in favor. In the same election cycle, Virginia, Wisconsin, South Dakota, South Carolina, Idaho and Colorado approved similar bans.

"The Supreme Court does not go the final step and find that a state that defines marriage as a union of one man and one woman is unconstitutional," continued Simmons.

"Further, the Supreme Court does not find that one state's refusal to accept another state's valid same-sex marriage to be in violation of the U.S. Constitution."

Simmons' ruling comes not long after multiple parties both for and against same-sex marriage legalization have petitioned the Supreme Court to address the issue.

Earlier this month Utah, Virginia and Oklahoma filed petitions of appeal with the Supreme Court in response to the numerous lawsuits across the nation.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes stated that his duty is to legally defend the will of the state's voters, who supported the state's marriage amendment via referendum.

"My responsibility is to defend the state Constitution and its amendments as Utah citizens have enacted them," said Reyes.

"We recognize this litigation has caused uncertainty and disruption and have accordingly tried to expedite its resolution as quickly as possible by filing our petition a full month-and-a-half before its Sept. 23 due date," he added.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who gained headlines for refusing to defend the Commonwealth's voter-approved marriage amendment, also asked the Supreme Court for its decision.

"Throughout this case, I have fought for the fundamental rights of Virginians and the quickest possible resolution," said Herring. "I believe the district and appeals courts ruled correctly in striking down Virginia's discriminatory marriage ban, but it has long been clear that the Supreme Court will likely have the final word."

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