Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

County same-sex marriage resolution has some seeing red

A hot button issue will appear in front of the Washington County Commission when they convene on Monday, but it won’t be the only county that decides on a resolution that disagrees with the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision of Obergefell vs. Hodge. That ruling requires all states to issue licenses to same-sex couple and to recognize same-sex marriages validly performed in other jurisdictions.
Carter County made their decision last night on a similar resolution and Hawkins and Unicoi County Commissioners will vote on the topic on the same night as Washington County Commissioners.
Washington County attorney Thomas Seeley III confirmed with the Herald & Tribune on Friday that he was drafting the resolution which will appear in front of the commission and he said if the commission has a problem with the resolution, they will be able refute it.
“The (safety) committee members chose to hear it,” he said. “It is really a decision of the committee members and the full commission. But I think there is a possibility that the full commission could say that it is better dealt with in another committee and they would have the option to send it back to another committee to be dealt with in that committee before it comes to the full commission.”
Some wonder though, why is it an issue at all?
“To me, that is an issue that the Legislature of Tennessee needs to take up if they have an interest in it and there is really nothing that the county has to offer in terms of weighing in on that,” Commissioner Joe Grandy said.
Other commissioners also expressed their concern, citing Rules 8, Section E in the Washington County Board of County Commissioners Rules of Procedure that states that “Resolutions should be germane or relevant to county matters. The business of the Board shall be confined to public health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of Washington County. The agenda and resolutions of the Board of County Commissioners is not an appropriate forum to make political statements regarding federal, state and other jurisdictions actions that do not directly affect county government. Upon motion of a Board member and a majority vote of the Board of County Commissioners, a resolution shall be removed from the agenda as lacking germaneness or relevance to county government or its operations. Upon adoption of the motion, the resolution shall not be spread upon the minutes of the Board of County Commissioners.”
There is also a bill that currently sits in the Tennessee House (1412) and Senate (1437) known as the “Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act”, which states “the policy of Tennessee to defend natural marriage between one man and one woman regardless of any court decision to the contrary.” That would amend that the Tennessee Code (TCA) title 36.
This bill, however, could also cost the state money. A fiscal note determining the estimated physical impact of legislation attached to the bill states that “the provisions of that bill could jeopardize federal if it is determined the state is noncompliant with federal law.”
The Bureau of TennCare also reports that if someone is denied coverage that would otherwise be eligible by virtue of being in a same-sex marriage, and such action is considered noncompliant with federal law, then approximately $6.5 billion could be in jeopardy. In total, non-compliance with the Supreme Court decision could cost the state of Tennessee a total of $8.5 billion.
Numbers like that make it hard for Tennessee Equality Project Executive Director Chris Sanders to believe that any form of government would condemn a bill that could cut so much funding.
“Any county that encourages a state to disregard ruling is completely reckless, because of the effects it would have on federal funding, which is a significant part of our state’s budget,” Tennessee Equality Project Executive Director Chris Sanders said.
Some gay citizens of Washington County, like Seth McLaughlin, say that it is out of character for this area to seem hateful of same-sex relationships and he emailed all of the county commissioners to get an understanding of their feelings.
“This resolution, which accomplishes nothing positive, does harm the reputation of our community. It makes us look like bigots,” he said. “As a gay man living in the Mountain South, I can tell you the vast majority of people in Washington County are kind people. People move from all over the region to come here because it is the most welcoming community in the area. This resolution damages the reputation that this community is a good one to live in where all people are welcome.”
McLaughlin was able to marry his partner of 20 years on June 29, 2014, just three days after the Supreme Court made their decision on Obergefell. To him, it wasn’t about having a ceremony, but having the same rights as any other married couple.
“I didn’t need a ceremony to make it official; to me, it was about the real word issues,” McLaughlin said. “Real problems that same-sex couples face if their marriage rights are legally recognized, like inheritance, hospital rights and other important issues that married couples receive.”
The matter was brought to the Safety Committee by Dr. Bill Boswell, who was unable to attend the Safety Committee meeting.
“Unfortunately the case and point to represent the overstepping of the Supreme Court is an issue that is very polarized and I wish it wasn’t a hot button. Very honestly, there will be a time and a place for those who are opposed and against same sex marriage issues to debate that, but that ought to occur with the change of the laws in the state of Tennessee through the legislator and by the vote of the people, not by the jurisdiction of the federal supreme court.”  Dr. Boswell said later.
In his absence, Commissioner Forrest Boreing brought up the issue after Boswell and his wife reached out to him and other commissioners.  
“The United States Supreme Court decision made here recently – there is a difference between it and what the Tennessee State Law says in Section 18,” Boreing said during the meeting. “And with this, I am bringing before this committee a motion to ask our attorney and this committee to pass forward on to the full commission that a resolution be drawn up, asking our state representatives to uphold and then ask in any legal form that they can to leave this right to the state as it is listed in the constitution in the state of Tennessee.”
Article XI Miscellaneous Provisions, Section 18 of the Tennessee State Constitution states that:
“The historical institution and legal contract solemnizing the relationship of one man and one woman shall be the only legally recognized marital contract in this state. Any policy or law or judicial interpretation, purporting to define marriage as anything other than the historical institution and legal contract between one man and one woman, is contrary to the public policy of this state and shall be void and unenforceable in Tennessee. If another state or foreign jurisdiction issues a license for persons to marry and if such marriage is prohibited in this state by the provisions of this section, then the marriage shall be void and unenforceable in this state.”
And while it seems to be more of a legal issue, the fact that it was brought up in the safety committee doesn’t seem to make people on one side very happy, according to Sanders.
“What message does that send to LGBT people if you send a marriage resolution through a safety committee,” Sanders said.
A group of opponents to the bill will show up to the county commission meeting draped in red to show that they are against the resolution. Their facebook group “Wear Red to oppose Washington County anti-marriage equality resolution” has 127 people that say they are going to the meeting, while another 221 are interested.
The resolution is just one of the many items that sits on the Commissioners five-page agenda, which spans to almost 600 pages when all of the needed documents are attached.