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The beginning of the end of marriage equality in Tennessee? A closer look at HB 878

Published Thursday, Mar. 9th, 2023

Tennessee State Capitol Building, Nashville

The Tennessee House of Representatives passed a controversial bill on Wednesday that opponents believe threatens the future of marriage equality in the state – not just for LGBTQ+ couples, but for interracial and interfaith couples as well. With the state already trying to prevent online-ordained minsiters from officiating, this law is on track to severely limit access to marriage for many couples across the state. 


If signed into law, House Bill 878 would amend the state code that describes who can solemnize (or conduct) a marriage ceremony. The amendment would add a new subsection that allows a person to refuse to marry any couple whose marriage they object to based on their “conscience or religious beliefs.”


Here’s the exact language of the proposed addition: 


“(m) A person shall not be required to solemnize a marriage if the person has an objection to solemnizing the marriage based on the person's conscience or religious beliefs.”


See the full bill text here. 



At first, this might not seem like a big change from the current Tennessee law, which already states that religious officiants are not required to solemnize marriages they object to on religious grounds. 


But the language used in HB0878 is much more insidious than it first appears, and goes far beyond a simple ‘religious freedom’ claim. 


If passed as it’s currently written, the new law would allow any person to refuse to solemnize a ceremony for any reason. And with the state already moving to block online ordained ministers from officiating, this law could make it nearly impossible for same-sex couples, interracial couples, or any other minority couples to find officiants that would marry them in the state of Tennessee. 


And many opponents believe the discrimination won’t stop there, noting that country clerks might use the law to refuse to issue or file marriage licenses for same-sex couples, interracial couples, or any other couple whose marriage they find ‘objectionable.’ 


If this law passes, it could mean the end of equal access to marriage in Tennessee. Couples would be forced to bear the burden of others' intolerance, and the whims of their local county clerks and officiants.


This isn’t the first time that conservative lawmakers in the state have taken aim at marriage equality. As mentioned above, in 2019 legislators passed a law that would make it a felony for ministers ordained online to officiate a wedding there. Thankfully, this law was quickly put on hold by Tennessee District Court Judge Waverly Crenshaw for being unconstitutional, allowing online-ordained ministers (including AMM Ministers) to continue performing legal marriages there. (See Judge Crenshaw's order here.) It has been mired in court battles ever since and remains unenforceable.


Related: Good news for online-ordained ministers in Tennessee as ongoing lawsuit continues




We hope that members of the Senate see HB878 for what it is – an open invitation to discriminate in Tennessee – and reject it outright.  


Tennesseans deserve marriage equality. They deserve the right to love and marry whom they choose, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, ability, or other defining characteristic. And certainly, they deserve the right to marry regardless of any other person’s narrow opinion of what their marriage ‘should’ be.



Update 3/17/23: TN HB0878 passed the House on March 6th, 2023 and was transmitted to the Senate; it's companion bill, SB0596, has been deferred in Senate Judiciary Committee until Jan. 23rd, 2024. 


Online Ordination in the fight for Marriage Equality 


In the meantime, online ordination remains a powerful tool in the fight for marriage equality. It’s more important than ever for LGBTQ+ couples, interracial couples, interfaith couples, and non-traditional or non-religious couples to be able to find a wedding officiant who will respect and honor them on the wedding day. 


Online ordination with AMM ensures that all people have easy and affordable access to ordination, and protects the right of all people to marry and to solemnize marriage.  






Read next: 


The Big Picture in Tennessee’s Fight for Marriage Equality Must Include Online Ordination

The constitutional right to marry in Tennessee is being challenged on multiple fronts. To fight back, we must consider the big picture – including the right to online ordination. Learn how HB878 and 2019’s paused anti-online ordination law work together in an ongoing attack against marriage equality in Tennessee. 


Read the full article here. 



AMM Minister marries same-sex couple in a beautiful outdoor ceremony with friends and family members watching

AMM Minister Kay Annette McFarlane performs a joyful outdoor wedding



About American Marriage Ministries


American Marriage Ministries is a non-profit, interfaith and non-denominational constitutional church that's federally recognized as a 501(c)3 Public Charitable Organization. AMM provides free ordination, advocacy, and training for our ministers to ensure that all people have the right to get married and to perform marriage. To date, we have ordained over 1,057,996 ministers (and counting!) who have officiated weddings all across the United States.


• Learn more about what it means to be an AMM Minister on our FAQs Page. 



American Marriage Ministries logo of two interlocked gold rings with three light blue stars above them



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Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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