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State Court Judge Upholds Tennessee Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The ruling, while limited, is the first loss for marriage equality advocates since the Supreme Court's historic ruling last year in U.S. v. Windsor.

A state judge in Tennessee delivered the first loss for marriage equality advocates in over a year, ruling last week that Tennessee’s ban on same-sex marriage prevented a same-sex couple legally married elsewhere from divorcing in Tennessee.

The ruling came in the case of Frederick Michael Borman and Larry Kevin Pyles-Borman, a couple who were residents of Tennessee but legally married in Iowa in 2010. According to Iowa law, individuals do not need to be residents of the state in order to be legally married there. But, to be granted a divorce, Iowa law does require at least one of the individuals to have residency in the state.

When the Bormans tried to divorce, they found themselves in legal limbo because neither were residents of Iowa. That state couldn’t grant them a divorce, and Tennessee’s ban on same-sex marriage meant their home state did not even recognize their marriage in order to grant a divorce. The couple sued and challenged the Tennessee ban, arguing the Constitution required Tennessee to recognize their marriage so as to grant their request for a divorce.

Circuit Court Judge Russell E. Simmons disagreed. “Tennessee’s laws further provide that if another state allows persons to marriage who are prohibited from marriage in Tennessee, then that marriage is void and unenforceable in Tennessee,” Simmons wrote. According to Simmons, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Windsor did not control the outcome of the case here since the decision did not definitively rule unconstitutional state definitions of marriage that limit a union to one man and one woman.

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The decision is limited to those cases in the state that involve a divorce where the marriage itself is not recognized, and is not likely to make an impact on the federal cases challenging state-level same-sex marriage bans, including Tennessee’s. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is currently considering a legal challenge to the portion of the Tennessee ban that does not recognize already-existing marriages from other states.

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