Tennessee judge bucks string of rulings on same-sex marriage

A state judge in Tennessee has broken ranks with a wave of judicial opinion recognizing same-sex marriage as a constitutional right.

By Bob Allen

For the first time in over a year, a judge in Tennessee ruled recently that a state does not have to accept as valid a same-sex marriage performed legally in another state.

The Aug. 5 ruling in Roan County Circuit Court in Kingston, Tenn., breaks a string of more than two-dozen state and federal rulings declaring marriage a civil right that cannot be denied same-sex couples since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013.

judge russell simmonsJudge Russell Simmons Jr. of the 9th Judicial District covering four counties in east Tennessee agreed that “marriage is a fundamental right,” but he said neither the Tennessee nor U.S. Supreme Court has ever decided whether that right extends beyond the traditional definition of marriage as a union between a man and woman.

Until that happens, the judge determined, Tennessee’s ban on same-sex marriage and state recognition of already-existing marriages does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment or Article 4 of the U.S. Constitution providing that “full faith and credit shall be given in each state in the public acts, records, and judicial proceeding of every other state."

“The battle is not been whether or not marriage is a fundamental right but what unions are included in the definition of marriage,” said Simmons, a University of Tennessee graduate elected to the bench in 1990. The judge said that “should be the prerogative of each state” and that “neither the federal government nor another state should be allowed to dictate to Tennessee what has traditionally been a state’s responsibility, which is to provide a framework of laws to govern the safety and well-being of its citizens.”