People often ask me, "When do you think we'll get marriage equality in Tennessee?" I try to give my best guess, but you might as well ask me, "How do you solve a problem like Maria?"
Here, however, is what I know: Without action by the courts, the soonest it could happen is 2018.
The 2006 Tennessee constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman is the obstacle. A constitutional amendment would be needed to repeal or supersede it, and it can only go before voters the same year in which we elect a governor. "Oh, but, hey," you're thinking, "we elect a governor next year." True. But before a constitutional amendment goes on the ballot, it has to pass two consecutive sessions of the General Assembly. The second time, it has to pass with two-thirds of the members of the House and the Senate.
If you know 66 members of the state House of Representatives and 22 members of the state Senate ready to repeal our current marriage amendment, give me a call. My own painstaking count of the votes puts us at "probably none, but maybe one" in the Senate and what I like to call a "handful" in the House. If you don't believe me, go down the list and ask our legislators one by one.
It is especially sad because views are shifting, as a recent Vanderbilt poll revealed. Forty-nine percent of Tennesseans now support either marriage equality or civil unions, while 46 percent oppose both. Sixty-two percent support equal health insurance benefits for same-sex domestic partners. We clearly don't have a state government that represents where people are on these issues. That is why we have to expend so much energy trying beat the Don't Say Gay bill and similar nonsense every session.
But it is also sad because of the impact on real families in Tennessee. At Tennessee Equality Project, we recently surveyed our members and asked them to tell us if they have been legally married in other states, countries, or jurisdictions, where they live now, and how long they have been married.
Same-sex couples from Blountville, Chattanooga, Cookeville, Fairview, Greenbrier, Greeneville, Hermitage, Jackson, Knoxville, Lascassas, Maryville, Memphis, Murfreesboro, Nashville and Oak Ridge responded. They went to Canada; New York; Washington, D.C.; Massachusetts; Iowa; California — just about anywhere they could be legally married. Some were married last month. Some have been legally married for seven years.
Their unions are a testament to love, commitment and all the things marriages should be based on. Yet in the eyes of the law in Tennessee, none of that matters.
Not yet, anyway. With decisions coming any day from the Supreme Court in two key marriage cases — Hollingsworth v. Perry, which concerns California's Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage in the state, and United States v. Windsor, which challenges the Defense of Marriage Act — that may change. The speculation among court watchers runs the gamut. Some expect a sweeping decision with broad application; others predict narrow rulings with minimal applicability to states like Tennessee.
But if there is anything positive in the upcoming rulings, couples like the ones who answered our survey may hold the key to overturning Tennessee's constitutional amendment on marriage. Because they have been legally married in another jurisdiction, they are in a good position to have standing to challenge the amendment.
Whether we get to marriage equality in Tennessee through the constitutional amendment process or through the courts, we're going to be playing a waiting game. But what can we do while we wait?
First, we can celebrate Tennessee Marriage Equality Day on Aug. 31, the day the legislature set aside for "traditional" marriage. Our celebrations are going to be much more fabulous than theirs. Second, we can work for meaningful policy changes — such as equal benefits for Metro Nashville government employees — that fall short of marriage equality but help real people. If the tide of public opinion is turning in Tennessee, let's get some less controversial but important achievements under our belt.
Finally, let's gather the voices of more of these couples so they can bend the ears and change the minds of our legislators, and ring out in federal court someday soon. It's a chorus I can't wait to hear.
Chris Sanders is president of Tennessee Equality Project, a statewide nonprofit that advocates equal rights for LGBT citizens.
Breaking news related to Morton's in Nashville Double-Dippin' on Constituents Pocketbooks Provided Government Gluttons Free…
While the steps taken by Morton's are certainly warranted, apologizing and making a donation do…
All the Tea Party wants is for the Country to be ran in a fiscally…
The Tea Party could care less about the 99%. They are short sighted racists who…
Mark, it's OK to formally admit you don't know shit about this. Your posts already…