The U.S. Supreme Court issued its much-anticipated decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which addressed the constitutionality of state-enacted gay marriage bans, including the one in Tennessee. In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment, states are required to allow marriage between two people of the same sex. In addition, all states must recognize same-sex marriages that are lawfully licensed in other states.
The Supreme Court decision reverses a Sixth Circuit case involving the Tennessee Attorney General, DeBoer v. Snyder, 772 F. 3d 388 (2014), and unambiguously provides that same-sex couples have the same right to marry as heterosexual couples in Tennessee, as well as throughout the country. The ruling opens doors for same-sex couples not only to marry but also to receive all of the benefits provided by state and federal governments, such as favorable tax breaks, parental rights, and others.
Obergefell v. Hodges addressed the issue of same-sex marriage in four cases from Tennessee, Ohio, Michigan, and Kentucky, all states that had passed amendments to their state constitutions defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The couples in these cases sought to have their marriages considered equally as lawful as marriages between individuals of the opposite sex in their home states.
In a majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court recognized that it has long held that marriage is a fundamental right protected by the Constitution. Although that right has historically been viewed in the context of opposite-sex couples, the Obergefell Court confirmed that the same principles apply equally to same-sex couples. Since the Court relied largely on the United States Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment as the legal basis for its holding, absent a formal amendment to the Constitution or a new Supreme Court decision (both of which are highly improbable), the rights and privileges of a marriage between two people of the same sex are equal to those of opposite-sex couples. Now, same-sex couples, just like opposite-sex couples, need not worry about or question the future legality of their marriage in any state.
In the weeks following the Supreme Court decision, we can expect to see states with bans transition to issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples, as state officials begin implementing new procedures and filing any necessary pleadings with the lower courts. In Tennessee, Governor Bill Haslam has confirmed that the state will comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling, and Attorney General Slatery issued a directive to Tennessee county clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples upon request.
If you are seeking capable and experienced legal representation regarding a family law issue in Tennessee, contact the Nashville firm of Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, PLLC. Our seasoned team of attorneys will provide compassionate guidance throughout divorce, custody, and other legal proceedings. To schedule a consultation, contact us online or call (615) 800-7096.