Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signs law granting people the ability to refuse to ‘solemnize’ marriage licenses

Tennessee’s Republican Governor, Bill Lee, has recently signed a bill into law that grants individuals in the state the right to decline officiating a marriage if they hold personal objections to it.

Tennessee state lawmakers recently approved HB 878, a bill that declares “a person shall not be required to solemnize a marriage.”

In Tennessee, the state code specifies that only specific individuals, such as government officials, religious figures, and state notary publics, have the authority to solemnize the rite of matrimony.

According to the Tennessee Code Title 36, which outlines the regulations for marriages and license prerequisites in the state, couples are required to present a marriage license to the minister or officer before they can be united in matrimony. The license must be issued by a county clerk in Tennessee and directed to the minister or officer who will be conducting the marriage ceremony. This license serves as authorization for the solemnization of the marriage between the individuals involved.

Critics have been voicing their concerns about HB 878 ever since it was initially proposed last year.

Camilla Taylor, who serves as the deputy legal director for litigation at Lambda Legal, a leading LGBTQ legal advocacy group, expressed her concerns about the law, stating that it is an attempt to undermine the recent advancements made by the LGBTQ community.

According to Taylor, Tennessee House Bill 878 would clearly violate the Constitution. In a statement to CNN, Taylor emphasized that public officials cannot accept public office and then selectively decide whom to serve.

During the meeting, Fritts emphasized the importance of allowing officiants to decline solemnizing marriages that go against their personal beliefs. She stated, “As societal views change about what constitutes a marriage, officiants must be able to refuse to solemnize marriages that are contrary to their beliefs.” Fritts also highlighted the government’s responsibility to protect the exercise of religious beliefs and proposed that those with the authority to perform civil ceremonies should be allowed to refuse solemnizing marriages based on their conscience.

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CNN tried to contact Fritts for a comment, but he declined to do a phone interview.

In a recent statement, Tennessee GOP state Senator Mark Pody emphasized that the bill is not related to obtaining a license or the obligation of clerks to issue licenses.

Taylor expressed concerns about the potential wide-ranging impact of the bill, suggesting that it could affect not only same-sex couples but also interracial and interfaith couples.

According to Taylor, the bill is unconstitutional because it violates the Constitution’s prohibition on public officials discriminating against members of the public based on their personal beliefs. This applies regardless of whether the bill was specifically targeting same-sex marriages, interfaith marriages, or interracial marriages.

Government officials cannot discriminate against individuals based on their identity and impose a separate procedure for obtaining marriage licenses. Requiring same-sex couples to go through a different process, such as using a different door or waiting for a specific public official, would only serve to stigmatize them and send a message that their marriages are less valued by the government compared to others.

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