Summary of Lawsuit
On October 21, 2013, four homosexual couples filed a lawsuit against the state of Tennessee in federal court in Nashville, claiming that Tennessee’s laws that bar recognition of their out-of-state same-sex marriages are unconstitutional. Specifically, they claim that Tennessee’s state constitutional marriage amendment, adopted by 81% of the voters in 2006, and a similarly-worded state statute adopted in 1996 by the General Assembly, violate the U.S. Constitution’s Due Process and Equal Protection clauses.
The four couples were “married” in either California or New York, where same-sex marriage is legally recognized, and then moved to Tennessee. Even though Tennessee’s laws would also bar polygamous and certain other types of “marriages,” plaintiffs claim that the laws are solely rooted in hatred or ill will toward homosexuals. They further claim that they have sustained various types of “harm” as a result of their “marriages” not being recognized in Tennessee.
Although the lawsuit is seeking legal recognition for only out-of-state same-sex marriages, the complaint’s language appears intentionally drafted to be equally applicable to in-state same-sex marriages. In a press conference, the attorneys representing these couples made it clear that the lawsuit is indeed designed to lay the foundation to ultimately force Tennessee to recognize same-sex marriages conducted within our state.
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens now?
The state’s Attorney General will have to decide whether he thinks the law can be defended as constitutional.
What happens if the Attorney General decides not to defend the law?
Should the Attorney General believe the law is unconstitutional and therefore, not defensible, he is required by law to notify the Speaker of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of his decision. The two Speakers, by agreement, can choose to retain an attorney to defend the law.
What can the Governor do?
Not much. Under Tennessee’s law, the Governor cannot make the Attorney General defend the law or make the two Speakers decide to hire an attorney to defend the law.
Who is the trial judge?
At this time, the case has not been assigned to a particular federal judge.
What happens if the federal judge rules that the marriage law in Tennessee is unconstitutional?
The state will have the right to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
What happens if the federal judge upholds Tennessee’s marriage laws?
Then the plaintiffs would have a right to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
What happens after the Sixth Circuit rules?
The losing party would have the right to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. The decision to hear the case is within the discretion of the Court. Most likely there will be cases that reach the Court before Tennessee’s case or around the same time.
How long could all this take?
A trial in the federal court could be done at the earliest, by the end of next summer, but could take until early 2015. The appeal to the Sixth Circuit would take about another nine months. The Supreme Court might take up to another year to decide if it even wants to have the case briefed and argued.