Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Limited impact of CA marriage ruling in Tennessee

Most of the direct effects of the California Supreme Court's ruling overturning the state's same-sex marriage ban have taken the form of raising awareness of the issue. That's probably about as far as things can go. By statute and by constitutional amendment, marriage in Tennessee is going to be between a man and a woman for the foreseeable future, as it will be in many states.

The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition released this statement. Media generated discussion includes this piece in the Tennessean and this story in Out & About Newspaper. The Commercial Appeal ran the AP story without any local angle. The Knoxville News Sentinel and the Chattanooga Times Free Press didn't seem to bother at all. Maybe those stories will appear later on Friday. The Nashville Post quoted one straight Knoxville blogger, but no one had commented on the Post's entry by the end of the day on Thursday. So the coverage is pretty much a Middle Tennessee phenomenon at this point and a limited one at that.

The discussion is always valuable, though. No matter how many times we say it interviews, those of us who talk to the media about the legal recognition of GLBT relationships find that we are constantly having to remind our audience that we basically have few protections if our employers choose not to offer them. Consider the comments of Jerry Jones in the Tennessean story:

Every payday, Jones says he is reminded of the benefits of marriage. His employer, Vanderbilt University, offers domestic partner benefits to gay couples. So Jones' partner is covered under the university's insurance plan. But, unlike his married co-workers, the cost of that coverage is not deducted as a pre-tax benefit. "Marriage brings with it a lot of rights and privileges that the domestic partnerships do not," said Jones. "That's just one real, everyday example."

Bringing home the costs of discrimination is a crucial piece in the long-term fight for marriage rights across the country. And even without full marriage rights recognized by the federal government, gay and lesbian couples believe that domestic partnerships are a worthy policy goal in the state, local, and private spheres.

Other than generating more discussion, it's hard to see what other effects the California ruling will have on Tennessee politics. If we had a close U.S. Senate race, then perhaps the Federal Marriage Amendment would come into play as a campaign issue. If we didn't already have a state constitutional amendment defining marriage, then the ruling would probably add fuel to a push to add one. But at this point, I don't know who can make political hay with the issue in Tennessee.

The three presidential candidates don't support using the word marriage for same-sex couples, though they have nuanced positions on the right of states to define marriage. How might any of them draw on the issue to contrast themselves with their opponents in a way that the average voter would care about? The nuances would matter, of course, to the hard Religious Right and to the state's GLBT community. But most Tennessee conservatives, moderates, and progressives will not cast their votes based upon Obama, Clinton, or McCain's views of marriage. If McCain's position or his language shifts, it could come up. Time will tell.

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