Tennessee Ministers Challenge Constitutionality of State’s Certificate of Marriage

Dec 20, 2019

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Yesterday, eleven ministers across the state and from a variety of Christian denominations, along with Tennessee Independent Baptists for Religious Liberty, filed a Petition for Declaratory Order with the state’s Department of Health and Commissioner Lisa Piercey.

By virtue of state law, if ministers are to perform a marriage ceremony by which the natural rights of married persons can be protected and endorsed, ministers are required to sign a Certificate of Marriage form. But the ministers assert that the certificate is constitutionally “void and unenforceable.”

The certificate in question was created by the Haslam administration following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision finding a right to marry in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The language in the new form appears to make it, in effect, a same-sex “marriage” certificate.

But, according to their legal counsel, David Fowler, general counsel for the Constitutional Government Defense Fund, a division of Alliance for Law and Liberty, the certificate is void and unenforceable.

Fowler said, “Even the state’s Attorney General & Reporter argued two months after the Obergefell decision that the federal court with jurisdiction over the case could not enjoin the provisions of Tennessee’s Constitution making ‘void and unenforceable’ any ‘law or policy’ governing the licensure of marriage ‘purporting to define marriage as anything other historical institution and legal contract between one man and one woman.'"And, said Fowler, the court agreed.

However, in disregard of this provision in the state constitution and the court’s limited injunction, Governor Haslam’s administration created the “same-sex Certificate of Marriage.” 

The ministers are asking that the new certificate be declared “void and unenforceable” so that they do not have to sign a government form that asserts that the marriage they solemnized is defined by state law without regard to the two biological sexes.

Read the press statement regarding the Petition for Declaratory Order.
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