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Tenn. Court Upholds Gay Marriage Ban: Is 'Pro-Gay' Trend Over?

By Brett Snider, Esq. on August 12, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A Tennessee state court has turned the tide of gay marriage decisions and upheld Tennessee's ban on same-sex marriage.

In a rather short decision issued by Ninth Judicial District Circuit Court Judge Russell Simmons Jr., the judge denied a challenge by a same-sex couple who were legally married in Iowa. As the Washington Blade reports, this "no" to gay marriage is perhaps the first loss in at least 30 court victories for marriage equality in the past year.

So why did the Tennessee court stand fast with the gay marriage ban, and does this signal the end of the courts' pro-gay marriage trend?

A Line in the Sand?

The majority of the gay marriage victories in state and federal courts over the last year have been thanks to language and doctrine laid out in the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Windsor. That 2013 decision struck down the part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which prevented the federal government from recognizing marriages between same-sex couples.

However, Justice Kennedy limited his decision to the federal government, and Windsor did not strike down the portion of DOMA which allows states to refuse to recognize out-of-state gay marriages. This is the line that Judge Simmons chose to draw in his seven-page opinion on Tennessee's gay marriage laws.

Tennessee not only prohibits gays from being married in the state, but it also prohibits recognizing gay marriages as valid from other states. And since Windsor was clear in its application to federal law only, Judge Simmons took the High Court at its word and upheld Tennessee's right to deny out-of-state gay marriages.

Suing Couple Doesn't Like Marriage Either

Another quirk with this Tennessee case: The gay couple involved actually wants to get a divorce. Many of the states which have allowed gay marriage do not require residence in that state to grant a marriage license. However, Iowa, like many other states, requires that at least one of couple hoping to split to be an Iowa resident.

Gay couples may be discovering that it is easier to get married than to get divorced, especially in light of state-specific residency requirements.

End of the Gay Marriage 'Win' Streak?

Although this case represents a remaining legal bulwark against the rising tide of pro-gay marriage decisions, it has little legal effect nationally. The federal Sixth Circuit has five gay marriage cases pending (including one from Tennessee), which are far more pressing than Judge Simmons' denial.

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