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.

Monday, November 14, 2011

We are the 60%: Marriage inequality in TN and our options

ThinkProgress takes a look at a New York Times editorial lauding the recent Senate Judiciary Committee vote to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, which would overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.  The title of their post says it all:  "60 Percent of Americans Live in Places That Don't Offer Protections For Gay Couples."  29 states, including Tennessee, bar same-sex marriage via
Image from the Repeal Tennessee's Marriage

Amendment Facebook page

constitutional amendment.  They also include a map ominously called "The Geography of Discrimination."  Again, that's about as clear as it gets.

What can we do in Tennessee?  That's where things ain't so clear.   Here are our options for advancing marriage equality.  Nothing is easy or likely about any of them.

1.  Move our current Congressional delegation on DOMA.  We have a couple of Congressmen who might be persuaded to back repeal of DOMA--Cohen and Cooper.  I wouldn't take such a move for granted.  Our two U.S. Senators aren't fire-breathing Right wingers, but it would be an extremely heavy lift to move either one of them on DOMA.  Senator Alexander is starting to show more of his trademark moderation and independence.  And it's always good for more constituents to let him and Senator Corker, for that matter, know that they oppose DOMA, but don't hold your breath.

2.  Elect new anti-DOMA members to our Congressional delegation.  Defeating any of the decidedly pro-DOMA Senators or Congressmen with an anti-DOMA opponent also seems unlikely.  If Congressman DesJarlais goes down in defeat, it will likely be in the primary to another Right winger.  Tea Partiers talk about challenging Senator Corker, but we still don't know whether a viable Democrat will get in the race.  And even if one does, the odds are low that such a candidate would oppose DOMA--a lesson we learned in 2006.  Could the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community raise the $25,000+ in a House race or the $50,000+ needed to get the attention of a candidate in one of these races?  Yes, it could be done.  It seems unlikely to happen, though.  And even if it did, the anti-DOMA candidate has to win and stick to his or her position. 

3. Repeal Tennessee's amendment.  I'll offer the warning again:  Don't hold your breath.  To repeal a constitutional amendment is to amend the TN Constitution again.  That takes passing a resolution in two consecutive sessions and the second time you have to have two thirds of each House.  So we've got to elect, reelect, or persuade 33 Senators and 66 Representatives.  Are we willing to raise (and this is a conservative estimate) $10,000 for each of the 66 House races and $25,000 for each of the 33 Senate races?  First, I want to say that it could be done.  But I don't think it would happen because our community has shown more willingness to invest our political dollars out of state.  Additionally, all our candidates would have to win and then vote with us in two consecutive sessions.  If a miracle happened and the resolution passed, we would still have to win at the ballot.  Oh, and one last thing, we'd still have to repeal a state statute defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.  They spent over $3 Million in New York on ads designed to move Republicans in their legislative efforts.  Daunting!

4.  See you in court.  If DOMA is struck down in a court challenge, that would help ease another court challenge to Tennessee's state constitutional amendment and statute.  I'm not an attorney, but my hunch is that it is through the courts that Tennessee will achieve marriage equality.  But I'll let the legal experts weigh in on that one.

The deck is definitely stacked against us, but it's always up to us to decide what to do. There's no doubt in my mind that we could raise the money and volunteer army needed to make a move in 1 to 4 federal races.  That would increase the odds for desperately needed votes out of Tennessee's congressional delegation to pass the Respect for Marriage Act.  As I said, my doubts hinge on our ability to get that kind of agreement and focus statewide. 

I may very well have missed an option.  If so, let's get it out there on the table and discuss it.  Maybe that would help contribute to a statewide consensus so we could develop a plan of action to make our contribution to the movement for marriage equality in Tennessee. 

I'm in.  Are you?

-Chris Sanders

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