published Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Tennessee officials voice support, criticism of Supreme Court ruling that opens federal benefits for married gay couples

  • photo
    Gay rights advocate Vin Testa waves a rainbow flag in front of the Supreme Court at sun up in Washington, Wednesday, June 26, 2013.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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NASHVILLE — Tennessee advocates of gay rights are cheering today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a federal law provision denying federal benefits for married gay couples, saying they hope to use the case to challenge Tennessee’s own constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

“The reasoning of the opinion is very clear that it is unconstitutional to single out groups and to deny them this fundamental right for no reason,” said Nashville attorney Abby Rubenfeld, a former legal director for Lambda Legal, which provides legal assistance for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals. “There’s no rational basis for that.”

Rubenfield said advocates likely will be able to use the case to challenge Tennessee’s own constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, disagreed about the precedent.

“I think essentially the Supreme Court reserved for the states the status quo,” said the Republican and former state senator from Signal Mountain. “They did not rule same-sex marriage is a fundamental right.”

The nation’s high court struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act. It says that even when a lesbian or gay couple is legally married under state law, the federal government has to treat them as unmarried and can’t grant them any of the federal benefits, protections, and responsibilities of marriage.

Hedy Weinberg with the American Civil Liberties Union-Tennessee called the decision “truly an historic victory ... for legally marriage same-sex couples throughout the country.”

While the Tennessee Constitution “prohibits same-sex couples from marrying in this state, striking down DOMA means that for those same-sex couples who married elsewhere, the federal government should now recognize their marriage,” she said.

State Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, issued a statement criticizing the ruling.

“Our country was founded, settled, and built into the greatest nation on earth on the bedrock of the traditional family,” said Tracy, a 4th Congressional District candidate.

He said there are “detrimental forces in our culture that reject or do not recognize the importance of the traditional family unit in our society and those forces won today. As Tennessee’s congressman I will stay vigilant in the fight to protect traditional marriage and religious liberty and to honor the importance of the traditional family in our country.”

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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