Tennessee House bill would allow clerks to reject same-sex and interracial marriage

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Rainbow flag waves in Washington D.C. at the U.S. Supreme Court
Rainbow flag waves in Washington D.C. at the U.S. Supreme Court. Photo by Scott Drake

The Tennessee House of Representatives passed HB 878, a bill which could allow any person to object to same-sex, interracial, and interreligious marriages based on that person’s religious beliefs or conscience objections. The Advocate reports that this could permit government employees who issue marriage licenses — such as county clerks — to deny them to couples who don’t conform to that person’s beliefs. There’s a similar bill being discussed within the Tennessee Senate called Senate Bill 596.

Religious officials already have the right to reject same-sex marriage, which led some to question why the bill is being discussed at all.

“There is no example of this, and yet we are creating legislation about it,” said Democrat Rep. Justin J. Pearson, questioning a claim made by the sponsor of the bill, Republican Rep. Monty Fritts, that the bill would simply protect wedding officiants from conducting a wedding against their will. Rep. Fritts didn’t offer any example of a person being asked to solemnize a marriage against their beliefs.

Various LGBTQ organization disagree with the interpretation put out by Rep. Fritts.

“Extremist Tennessee lawmakers are unrelenting in their discriminatory attacks on the LGBTQ community,” said Sarah Warbelow, the Human Rights Campaign Legal Director. “Instead of focusing on the issues that Tennesseans actually care about, radical politicians are wasting their time and using their power to target the LGBTQ+ community — from same sex couples, to transgender youth, to drag artists.”

“The Tennessee House of Representatives continues to be one of the most dangerous legislative chambers in the country for LGBTQ+ people,” said Chris Sanders, the Tennessee Equality Project Executive Director. “They have ignored constituents in their offices, phone calls, and compelling committee testimony. It is time they became the People’s House again.”

HB 878 comes off the heels of the United States Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision back in June 2022. As reported by CBS News,  in a 6-3 vote with conservative judges outnumbering the liberal justices, the Supreme Court ruled that Roe v. Wade — a previous Supreme Court ruling that upheld a person’s right to choose when it came to abortion— was unconstitutional, thereby overturning decades of legal precedent.

In addition to the conservative majority’s opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, Justice Clarence Thomas penned a separate concurring opinion where he stated SCOTUS, “should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.” Those cases established, respectively, the right to contraception, the right to privacy for sexual activity between adults and the right to same-sex marriage.

With Justice Thomas’ opinion and HB 878 being passed within the Tennessee House, there has been a slew of anti-LGBTQ legislation across the U.S. The ACLU documents 425 anti-LGBTQ bills this year alone.

HB 878 is not the only anti-LGBTQ bill to pass the Tennessee Legislature. Earlier it passed SB 3. That bill would prohibit drag performers from performing on public property or in view of anyone below the age of 18. Gov. Bill Lee signed SB 3 on March 2.