A US judge has ruled that Tennessee’s ban on gay marriage is legal and should not be overturned on constitutional grounds.
Judge Russell Simmons Jr is the first Judicial District Circuit Court judge to uphold a state’s same-sex wedding ban since the US Supreme Court struck out part of the US’s marriage legislation last year.
In a decision that came as a surprise to LGBT+ campaigners, he cited a 1972 case, Baker v Nelson, which he said effectively established that gay marriage did not need to be recognised in state law.
‘[That case] holds that a state’s law on same-sex marriage does not violate the equal protection or substantive due process rights under the United States Constitution,” the judge wrote in his consideration of an LGBT+ couple’s appeal against the ban.
‘Although the United States Supreme Court has had opportunities to overrule the Baker decision, it has refused to take that position,’ Judge Simmons added.
‘Marriage simply cannot be divorced from its traditional procreative purposes … the promotion of family continuity and stability is certainly a legitimate state interest.
‘There is nothing irrational about limiting the institution of marriage for the purpose for which it was created, by embracing its traditional definition.
‘To conclude otherwise is to impose one’s own view of what a state ought to do on the subject of same-sex marriage.”
Ironically, the gay couple who had asked for the ban to be repealed wanted it lifted so they could get a divorce.
LGBT+ activists argue that the ban on same sex marriage is unconstitutional as it denies them equal human rights.
But the judge said that the campaigners’ claim – that the state’s own ban on gay marriage violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution – was invalid.
In a referendum held in Tennessee 2006, 81% of voters came out against the legalisation of same-sex marriage, prompting the state to adopt a law forbidding it.
States such as Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Virginia, Idaho, South Carolina, and Colorado also adopted a ban after similar referendums.
Last year the Supreme Court ruled that a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional, opening the way for LGBT+ groups to challenge individual state bans on same-sex marriage.
But, in his statement, Judge Simmons said: “The Supreme Court does not go the final step and find that a state that defines marriage as a union of one man and one woman is unconstitutional.”
‘Further, the Supreme Court does not find that one state’s refusal to accept another state’s valid same-sex marriage to be in violation of the U.S. Constitution,’ he added, referring to other states which have struck out the ban.
Judge Simmons stressed his view that ‘neither the Federal Government nor another state should be allowed to dictate to Tennessee what has traditionally been a state’s responsibility.’
The judge’s refusal to find the state ban unconstitutional under federal law is the first since the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling, although some states are appealing against the judgements.
In the past 14 months more than 30 courts, plus two federal appeals courts, have upheld there is a constitutional right for LGBT+ people to marry.
So far 19 US states permit same-sex marriages despite having faced vocal opposition from some conservative and religious groups.
Following Judge Simmons’ decision, Marc Solomon, the national campaign director of American group Freedom to Marry, told the Washington Blade that the Tennessee ruling was an isolated exception in the long run of repeals following the DOMA ruling.
LGBT+ campaigners are pressuring the Supreme Court to specifically identify same-sex marriage as a US constitutional right. This would over-rule all state bans.
Mr Solomon said: ‘One wrong-headed decision out of more than 35 cases since the landmark victory at the Supreme Court last year isn’t too shabby.’
He added: ‘It also serves as a reminder that, while we’ve been winning, we haven’t yet won and so we need to keep making the case in the court of public opinion that America is ready for national resolution – and that the denial of marriage in Tennessee and elsewhere has real, human consequences.’