This lawsuit by four (later three) same-sex couples legally married under the laws of other states was filed on October 21 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. It challenged Tennessee laws barring recognition of their marriages, alleging that those laws violate the federal Equal Protection and Due Process clauses, and the right to travel. Lawyers included private counsel and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-3-113 provides that, among other things, "[i]f another state or foreign jurisdiction issues a license for persons to marry, which marriages are prohibited in this state, any such marriage shall be void and unenforceable in this state." The statute further provides that "it is  the public policy of this state that the historical institution and legal contract solemnizing the relationship of (1) man and one (1) woman shall be the only legally recognized marital contract in this state in order to provide the unique and exclusive rights and privileges to marriage." The Tennessee Constitution, as amended in 2006 to incorporate the "Tennessee Marriage Protection Amendment" following a referendum, contains essentially the same provisions. Plaintiffs in this case did not directly challenge Tennessee's ban on new
marriages, only Tennessee's refusal to recognize marriages legally celebrated by same-sex couples in other states.
On , plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction requiring the state to recognize their marriages, pending a final decision on the merits. It sought individual relief for the six plaintiffs only. The district court granted the requested preliminary relief on March 14, 2014. Citing a "rising tide of persuasive post-Windsor federal caselaw," District Judge Aleta A. Trauger held that "it is no leap to conclude that the plaintiffs here are likely to succeed in their challenge to Tennessee's Anti-Recognition Laws." And the plaintiffs were being irreparably harmed by the Tennessee law: "Moreover, the evidence shows that the plaintiffs are suffering dignitary and practical harms that cannot be resolved through monetary relief. The state's refusal to recognize the plaintiffs' marriages de legitimizes their relationships, degrades them in their interactions with the state, causes them to suffer public indignity, and invites public and private discrimination and stigmatization." The court accordingly granted preliminary relief pending fuller adjudication. It commented, "At some point in the future, likely with the benefit of additional precedent from circuit courts and, perhaps, the Supreme Court, the court will be asked to make a final ruling on the plaintiffs' claims. At this point, all signs indicate that, in the eyes of the United States Constitution, the plaintiffs' marriages will be placed on an equal footing with those of heterosexual couples and that proscriptions against same-sex marriage will soon become a footnote in the annals of American history."
On November 6, 2014, the Sixth Circuit ruled on this and other cases from four states. DeBoer v. Snyder (PB-MI-0004
in this Clearinghouse). Obergefell v. Hodges (PB-OH-0003
in this Clearinghouse). Henry v. Hodges (PB-OH-0004
in this Clearinghouse). Love v. Beshear (PB-KY-0001
in this Clearinghouse). It was unwilling to find a Constitutional basis to deny states' authority to define marriage. On the Due Process and Equal Protection claims raised in this case, the court found that it was bound by Supreme Court precedent in Baker v. Nelson, 191 N.W.2d 185 (Minn. 1971), which it found not overruled by Windsor nor by "doctrinal developments". It found that the bans were plausibly rational, and neither in violation of the Constitution nor due to illegal animus or discrimination. It also held that "[i]f it is constitutional for a State to define marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman, it is also constitutional for the State to stand by that definition with respect to couples married in other States or countries." (DeBoer v. Snyder Page p. 38). Accordingly, the Sixth Circuit upheld the same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee. 772 F.3d 388.
The Supreme Court granted certiorari review of all the 6th Circuit cases on Jan. 16, 2015. Bourke v. Beshear, 135 S. Ct. 1041 (2015). The Court rephrased the questions presented as: 1) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license marriage between two people of the same sex? 2) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?
On June 26, 2015, the Court reversed, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy. The right to marry is fundamental, the Court held, and it demeans gay and lesbian couples to deprive them of access to marriage. The 14th Amendment therefore does not allow states to ban same-sex marriage. Kennedy was joined without further writing by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor. Each of the four dissenters--Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito--wrote a dissent. - 02/15/2015
Thomas Topping - 02/15/2015