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Tennessee Lawmakers move to strip same-sex couples of marriage equality (again)

Published Thursday, Feb. 6th, 2020

Updated March 2021


Just when you thought they couldn’t go any lower, a group of Tennessee lawmakers introduced yet another bill that aims to strip non-traditional couples of their constitutional right to marriage and equal treatment under the law. 


But this time around, two Republican lawmakers Janice Bowling and John Ragan are coming at it from a different angle – arguing that supporting same-sex marriage is a violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause which prohibits the government from "respecting an establishment of religion."


This is a complete inverse of the intention of the establishment clause which literally prevents lawmakers like Bowling and Ragan from foisting their religious beliefs on the general population through legislating. And if this gaslighting doesn’t have you reaching for the Jim Beam, then keep reading...
The two Tennessee legislators pursue this line of reasoning by citing the “Lemon Test,” a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from 1971. This particular ruling states that governments can assist religion if  1) the primary goal of the assistance is secular, 2) the assistance doesn’t promote or inhibit religion, and 3) does not cause an excessive entanglement between church and state. 



AMM Minister's Dylan Wall and Glen Yoshioka performing in-person ordinations in Tennessee in 2019 after the legislature moved to ban online ordination. 


When it comes to same-sex marriage, the two lawmakers argue that only licenses for marriage between a man and woman pass the “Lemon Test,” and that it does not violate the U.S. Constitution, and that it upholds "community standards of decency.”
If you are scratching your heads, so are we. Having lost the public opinion battle (support for same-sex marriage is 63% nationally, and 83% among millennials) lawmakers like Bowling and Ragan are forced to engage in legal gymnastics to get their way.
Basically, Bowling and Ragan are saying that because same-sex relations are “indecent,” and promote “licentiousness,” the state has a right to prevent such couples from enjoying the same rights and privileges as heterosexual couples. 
If you feel like you just stepped into a time machine, we understand. 
This isn’t the first, and likely won’t be the last time that a dwindling group of bigots attack minority rights in an effort to cling to power, and promote their regressive worldview. Just last year, American Marriage Ministries was on the ground in Tennessee heading off an equally backwards bill that sought to strip non-traditional ministers of their rights. We expect to be back soon, especially with this new development. 
This particular law, SB 2625/ HB 2410, will likely collapse under the weight of its own inanity, but it’s a constant reminder to never take our rights for granted. We encourage you to join us in our efforts - which you can do by first getting ordained - and then by supporting our advocacy efforts in states like Tennessee.


Updated March 29, 2021:

Thankfully, this bill died in committee, after being referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee in January of 2020. 








Lewis King
Lewis King

Lewis is AMM's executive director. He also wears other hats at AMM, like taking out the recycling, restocking the sparkling water, and watering the office plants.

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