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.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Good News: Marriage is Not Dead in Tennessee

On Thursday night, July 25, in Germantown, TN, I was there when the Family Action Council of Tennessee, (FACT) decided marriage was not dead.  However, FACT believes the institution is on life support and within a few months or a couple of years of being declared extinct.  Nate Kellum, self proclaimed chief counsel of the self founded Center for Religious Expression, attempted to, on the one hand, educate the tens of people who attended (28 plus 3 facilitators) on the DOMA and Prop 8 decisions and, on the other hand, scare them into a course of action he could  not clearly define.

But do you know what rang most true during the whole night? He endorsed the allied groups that are bringing us equal marriage.  Nate (I'm going to call him Nate cause it's easier, and because I feel like I should know him.  We were at Ole Miss Law School at the same time) told the gathering that pro-equal marriage advocacy is a success story.  That marriage equality proponents make up a small but affluent group.  That they are passionate and committed because they just brush off defeat and start re-strategizing.  He declared that they will work until there is full acceptance of their "lifestyle."  Well, by this point, I felt like standing up and yelling at the top of my lungs, "Damn Straight!!!!!"  Oops.  I mean, darn tooting!  He then stated that Christians needed to match that effort.  That's when things got scary again.

I.  Marriage is not dead.

Nate's first point was despite the DOMA and Prop 8 decisions, the "biblical" definition or marriage remained intact.  He did a relatively good job explaining the result of the decisions, but I loved his editorial speechifying along the way.  Ask me sometimes for the details, but suffice it to say, he used terms like "serious homosexual activist" in reference to the Prop 8 trial court Judge Walker, "unprecedented," "unconscionable," and "utterly deprived Prop 8 proponents of their voice in court."

II.  However, he said "marriage" is in a fight for its life.

Nate admitted that his marriage had not been "redefined", but his definition was on life support.  He immediately blamed Lambda Legal and the ACLU for wasting no time in Pennsylvania and North Carolina in challenging marriage amendments and laws.  But the worst case scenario for FACT is the Ohio case.  They know it, and they don't know what to do about it.  Ohio residents and twenty plus year partners Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, who has been stricken with ALS, flew to Maryland and got married on July 11 on the tarmac in the airplane in which they arrived.  John's family owns a  burial plot that is restricted to Arthur family descendants and their spouses. Additionally, if John dies as the Ohio law now stands, he would be identified as unmarried on the death certificate, and Jim would not be identified as spouse or survivor.  So, the gentlemen have  filed suit in Ohio federal court to have their Maryland marriage recognized by the state of Ohio.  

Last Monday, the court, relying on the DOMA case, ordered the State of Ohio to recognize the marriages of same sex spouses who married in other states but who live in Ohio. It is a thrilling ruling for same sex partners living in Tennessee, and it has FACT frightened.  Why for Tennessee?  The federal court system is geographically and for purposes of legal precedent divided into appellate court circuits.  Tennessee and Ohio are both in the Sixth Circuit, and when a Sixth Circuit Court decides an issue, it could be binding in all of the states in that circuit.  So, if the Ohio district court case is appealed to the Sixth Circuit, and the Sixth Circuit rules as the lower court did, marriage equality could effectively be brought to Tennessee.  Nate said, and I agree, that the DOMA and Prop 8 cases do not affect Tennessee marriage directly, but this Ohio case could.

Which brings us to the second point FACT made here.  That marriage is under severe attack by cultural influences.  He noted with astonishment how supporting same sex marriage has become not only "not detrimental" but politically advantageous for politicians.  I find this a huge admission from FACT and a bigger victory in the long term battle.

But then . . . 

III.  Marriage is worth fighting for he argued.

Here is where Nate fell down the rabbit hole into apparent untruths, half truths, and undocumented and unsourced scare tactics.  He argued that opening up marriage to other "definitions"  harms individuals, social interests, and religious liberties.

According to Nate, same sex marriage will beget polygamy which will beget polyamorous marriages which will beget adult/child marriages which will beget person/pet marriages.  He then linked the concept of equal marriage to the trigger word "welfare" when he blamed marriage equality in Sweden and Norway for contributing to them being the largest two welfare states in western civilization.

Finally, he finds same sex marriage harmful to religious liberty.  He posited that because same sex marriage  proponents want full societal acceptance of gay people and nothing less, a clash between those who want to live their biblical freedom and everyone else is inevitable.  He told of three arrests in Europe based upon "preaching the gospel" or simply reading from the biblical book of Romans about homosexuality, and he intimated that this type of state action was headed for America.  However, he conveniently forgot to mention the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment guaranteeing free speech and the fact there are no hate speech laws anywhere in any jurisdiction.  See aforementioned First amendment issue.

Nate then took questions ranging from should they sue the Supreme Court justices for tyranny to the best question of the night, "How do we stop this runaway train [marriage equality] headed toward Tennessee?"  He answered simply that they had to pray, had to speak where God put them, had to talk to their friends and neighbors, and perhaps a Supreme Court challenge would go up in a couple of years where the Court would uphold traditional marriage.  FACT, though, is also sponsoring a work session entitled "Stand for Truth" at which they will be teaching what they describe as practical tools for talking to non-Christians about abortion and traditional marriage.

Well, in the long run, I have to agree that marriage is not dead.  Rather, I submit it is  getting a second wind.  A new (and not so new) generation or should a say, a protected class, of people want it, lust after it, desire it, and want to make it theirs.  They want to feel safe, secure, loved, transformed.  They want to rear children together, grow old together, and get buried together.  They want to build families and love each other to the fullest extent of the law, and  I am proud to say that I think Nate would agree with me that it is closer to reality here in Tennessee than ever before.

Now, here is your challenge.  Nate threw it out there when he recognized all of your unwillingness to take defeat.  Can you be as committed, as passionate, and as hard working when success seems to be in your grasp?  Can you show them you mean just as much business when you are winning as when you were being defeated?  The folks at FACT Forum on Marriage are reorganizing and restrategizing, and they believe they can do to equal marriage what they are doing to reproductive rights.  So, please don't let them win.  Work harder.  Work longer.  Reap your rewards, and fight on.  Marriage is close, but let's not stop until Nate's worse nightmare and our dream is realized - full acceptance of GLBT people in our society and under our law.  

- Anne Gullick, TEP and TEPF Board member

1 comment:

H.G. Stovall said...

This is a wonderful report on the movements of a very scary organization. Thank you, Anne, for going to the front line.