A word about wedding officiants who were ordained online

With the Supreme Court set to rule on marriage soon, many people are planning weddings.  One part of getting married is finding someone who can officiate the wedding and sign the license legally in Tennessee. 

Many people who were ordained online as ministers are stepping forward to offer their services.  Does that translate to a legal marriage?  Google searches pull up lots of ads and sites that say they are legal.  Is that true, marketing, some of both?

We're not attorneys at the Tennessee Equality Project, so we're not going to make a blanket statement.  We urge you to proceed with caution and consult an attorney.

Here's some information that may be of help to you:

*A 2015 Tennessee Attorney General opinion reiterating the Tennessee Code's stringent requirements for ministers to be able solemnize marriages generally and denying the right of Universal Life Church ministers specifically to solemnize marriages in Tennessee.  See the link.

*A 2012 New York Times piece indicating that Tennessee and a few other states generally do not consider online ordination valid for legal marriages.  Here's the link.

*A 2007 New York Times piece indicating that couples married by an online minister in some states are at risk.  The full story at the link.

What if you make a mistake?  This 1997 Tennessee Attorney General opinion indicates that mail-order or online ordained ministers are generally not permitted to officiate weddings in Tennessee, but that if couples have a ceremony, live together, and think they're married, the State will typically treat them as married, though there is the possibility of the marriage being challenged.  Read the whole thing here.  Note:  The County Clerk cannot, according to Tennessee law, challenge the ordination of the person marrying you, but others may be able to do so. 

So before agreeing to be married by someone, read this section of the Tennessee Code.  It lists current and former elected officials who may marry couples and it contains qualifications for clergy acting as officiants.  So if you choose a member of the clergy, you may want to ask whether they are 18 or older, whether they have the care of souls (typically meaning a congregation), and how they were ordained or designated a minister.  The law says their ordination must have been a "considered, deliberate, and responsible act."  The 2015 Tennessee Attorney General opinion cited above should be consulted on what that means.

In summary...proceed with caution, ask questions, and consult an attorney if you have doubts.

Tennessee County Marriage License Status

The following is a list of Tennessee counties in alphabetical order showing whether they are providing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  NO means the county is not yet providing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, frequently for technical and administrative reasons.  YES means the county is providing marriage licenses to same-sex couples or is willing to do so.  The list will be updated frequently if the Supreme Court strikes down state marriage bans.  If you have an update on a county, email us at chris@tnequalityproject.com .

01 Anderson YES
20 Decatur YES
39 Henderson YES
58 Marion  YES
77 Sequatchie  YES
02 Bedford   YES
21 Dekalb YES
40 Henry YES
59 Marshall YES
78 Sevier YES
03 Benton  YES
22 Dickson YES
41 Hickman YES
60 Maury  YES
79 Shelby  YES
04 Bledsoe  YES
23 Dyer YES
42 Houston  YES
61 Meigs YES
80 Smith YES
05 Blount YES
24 Fayette YES
43 Humphreys YES
62 Monroe  YES
81 Stewart YES
06 Bradley  YES
25 Fentress YES
44 Jackson YES
63 Montgomery YES
82 Sullivan  YES
07 Campbell YES
26 Franklin  YES
45 Jefferson YES
64 Moore  YES
83 Sumner YES
08 Cannon YES
27 Gibson YES
46 Johnson YES
65 Morgan YES
84 Tipton YES
09 Carroll  YES
28 Giles YES
47 Knox  YES
66 Obion YES
85 Trousdale YES
10 Carter YES
29 Grainger YES
48 Lake  YES
67 Overton  YES
86 Unicoi  YES
11 Cheatham YES
30 Greene YES
49 Lauderdale YES
68 Perry YES
87 Union YES
12 Chester YES
31 Grundy YES
50 Lawrence YES
69 Pickett  YES
88 Van Buren YES
13 Claiborne YES
32 Hamblen  YES
51 Lewis  YES
70 Polk YES
89 Warren  YES
14 Clay YES
33 Hamilton  YES
52 Lincoln  YES
71 Putnam YES
90 Washington YES
15 Cocke  YES
34 Hancock  YES
53 Loudon YES 72 Rhea  YES
91 Wayne  YES
16 Coffee YES
35 Hardeman YES
54 McMinn YES
73 Roane  YES
92 Weakley YES
17 Crockett YES
36 Hardin YES
55 McNairy YES
74 Robertson YES
93 White YES
18 Cumberland YES
37 Hawkins YES
56 Macon YES
75 Rutherford  YES
94 Williamson YES
19 Davidson  YES
38 Haywood YES
57 Madison YES
76 Scott YES
95 Wilson YES

Tennessee responses to anti-equality pastor in Clarksville

The Rev. Ed Manners, pastor of Kirkwood Baptist Church in Clarksville, recently wrote a column gaining national attention in which he argued that same-sex marriage is a recruiting tool and that one's sexuality is a choice. 

National outrage matters and is predictable, of course.  But were there any Tennessee responses?

Fortunately, yes, there were.

First, Clarksville resident David Shelton wrote this superb response for the Leaf Chronicle, where the Manners column originally appeared.    You can read it here

The Tennessee Equality Project also offered a response on Tuesday when asked by Fox17.  You can view the report here.

As we get closer to the Supreme Court ruling on state marriage bans, we can expect more of the same...and probably for some time afterwards, too, if the Court strikes down Tennessee's discriminatory amendment.

If you are aware of anti-equality rhetoric in Tennessee, feel free to report it at chris@tnequalityproject.com . 

Summer of Love Letter 2: Stories of Risk and Courage in Cleveland

The City with Spirit:  The Summer of Love tour officially launched in Cleveland today.  Cleveland's motto is "The City with Spirit," which is a reference not only to "American spirit," but also to the fact that the city is home to The Church of God. The Church of God (Cleveland) comes out of the Pentecostal tradition and the denomination's influence is felt everywhere in Bradley County, as we heard again and again from the residents who attended our event today.

We had 10 participants, 12 if you count the Cleveland Daily Banner reporter and me.  And 10 is the goal of every tour stop in the Tennessee towns on the tour.

Stories of Risk and Courage:  Among those in attendance was a man originally from Cleveland who left years ago and now lives in Decatur, Georgia.  Some of the concerns that prompted him to leave were echoed in the comments of those who had lived all their lives or people who had just moved there in the last few years from Middle Tennessee and Las Vegas!

It's comes down to coming out.  If you think coming out stories are passe, talk to people in smaller Tennessee towns.  Making the decision to come out or not affects one's job prospects and maybe even your status at schools like local Lee University, a Church of God institution. 

Bullying in schools is a major concern in the area.  A discussion of the situation locally and in Polk County occupied a good bit of the agenda today.  Easy solutions were hard to come by.  What can you say when you hear the story of a gay student who was told by a teacher that he isn't welcome in a public high school or that a principal thinks a Gay-Straight Alliance is a security risk?

There's a lot of work to do now and after marriage.  LGBT people and allies are up against considerable odds.  Our hope is that the tour helps connect them to one another, to the statewide movement, and to resources that will help them thrive.

What are the wins today?  First, it happened.  There was an LGBT event in a public park in Cleveland.  Second, the reporter stayed for the entire meeting.  There is a photo and long description of the goals of the tour on page 2 of the Sunday Cleveland Daily Banner that will tell others in Cleveland that there are LGBT people and allies in the area and I hope it gives others the courage to come out and get involved.  Third, the group is going to continue meeting and working on projects.  Some agreed to help with marriage preparation when DAY ONE comes.  Others agreed to contact businesses to join Tennessee Open For Business so that Cleveland folks will know which places are safe to work and to do business.  Everyone wants to work on safer schools. 

Today was a sobering reminder for all of us who live in larger cities in Tennessee.  We need to be there for the whole LGBT community in Tennessee.  We need one another and the movement for equality is stronger when we are connected and working together. 

TEP salutes all the LGBT people and allies in Cleveland.  Your courage inspires us.

The Summer of Love tour continues on Saturday in McMinnville.  If you would like to host a tour stop, contact us at this link.  If you would like to support the tour, go to this link



TEP kicks off Summer of Love tour in Cleveland today



For immediate release:  June 13, 2015

Contact:  Chris Sanders, 615-390-5252 or chris@tnequalityproject.com


Tennessee Equality Project kicks off ‘Summer of Love’ tour in Cleveland today


WHAT:  Public gathering for LGBT people and allies in Cleveland, TN


WHO:  Tennessee Equality Project, a statewide organization working for the equality of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in Tennessee and people from the Cleveland area.


WHERE:  Tinsley Park in Cleveland, TN located at 4031 Keith St NW.  Pavilon One.


WHEN:  Starts at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday, June 13


WHY:  The tour stops are designed to reach cities other than the 6 largest in Tennessee in order to connect LGBT people with one another and allies locally, connect them to the statewide movement for equality, and to connect them with resources to make them safer and help them thrive.  Among the other tour stops coming up are McMinnville, Dickson, Kingsport, Morristown, Maryville, Harrogate, and Union City with more to be added.



Overcoming the "Tennessee is hopeless" industry

Taking the power out of the "Tennessee is hopeless" industry is not easy.  In previous posts, I named it and discussed its effects

Those posts indicated that there probably will be no quick solution, but the effort is necessary to avoid a free fall into despair.  So how do we overcome this message machine?

1.  We have to be honest about the problems we face in Tennessee.  What we share in common with the "Tennessee is hopeless" industry is a sober look at the issues we face.  Where we depart from others is how we use bad news.  We don't write or speak about our problems in order to sensationalize them or confirm preconceived notions about the state or the South in general.  We discuss our problems as a call to action.  Lack of a call to action is one of the sure signs of sharing bad news as a call to reaction, typically an emotional reaction.

2.  Remember and celebrate victories.  Audre Lorde said, "Each victory must be applauded."  And  we have them in Tennessee along with the setbacks.  The Nashville non-discrimination ordinance, the Nashville contractor ordinance, the Knoxville non-discrimination ordinance, the Memphis non-discrimination ordinance, the Knox County non-discrimination ordinance, the Chattanooga partner benefits/non-discrimination ordinance, the Knoxville partner benefits executive ordinance, the Nashville partner benefits ordinance, and more.  Negative legislation, which generates so many "Tennessee is hopeless" stories, mostly gets defeated.  Consider the Don't Say Gay, License to Bully, Police the Potty, Counseling Discrimination, and Turn the Gays Away bills, which have all been defeated in recent years.  Every adoption ban bill has eventually gone down in flames.  This is a record we Tennesseans can be proud of, not only because of the results, but because we achieved them.  There will be more victories in part because we believe we can achieve them.

3.  Being clear about the help we need.  There are absolutely times when we could use help.  We could have used help from national bloggers on the YES Chattanooga campaign, but they would not cover it before the defeat and the damage was done.  WOULD NOT.  So those of us fighting in Tennessee--from the organizations to the individuals who care about equality--need to do more to urge the national blogs to cover our struggles AND cover our victories.  Other than the Human Rights Campaign, I'm not sure anyone at the national level wrote about the defeat of the Counseling Discrimination bill this year.  We all (and I include myself) have to try harder to get our stories out.

4.  Stories.  Stories.  Stories.  And that gets me to a point we hear all the time, but it's true.  We need stories and not just the stories of organizations, although that is important because those of us in organizations work hard.  But we need the stories of individuals surviving and thriving in Tennessee.  We need the stories of allies and how they came around.  Oddly enough, these stories will be as valuable in moving our LGBT brothers and sisters in other parts of the country as they are in moving our straight neighbors in Tennessee.  Maybe if LGBT folks in other parts of the country read and hear our human stories, they won't be so quick to write us off and they might partner with us more often in constructive ways.

That's my best guess.  But the "Tennessee is hopeless" industry must be resisted because it perpetuates a skewed perspective and it further isolates our region to the point that we are being deprived of resources that we need.  Let's resist it constructively, though, and not in some shrill or bitter manner.  We are not responsible, in the end, for what others write about us, but we can make sure we do our part to give them better material. 

TBI report finds increase in LGBT domestic violence

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has released its latest domestic violence report.  You can read it here.  We'll note a few of the findings.

*Overall domestic violence reports were down in Tennessee by 7.4% when one compares the 2011-2013 statistics to the 2012-2014 figures.

*LGBT domestic violence increased by about 3.5% between the 2011-2013 and 2012-2014 reports.  In the most recent report, the LGBT numbers were 4194 documented cases.  That number was 4053 in the previous report.

*Within same-sex relationships, "the largest group of domestic violence victims were African-American females at 41.9%."

The report doesn't specifically identify relationships involving transgender and bisexual people.  So the figures could be significantly higher. 

TEP calls on Rep. Susan Lynn to engage transgender community, not diagnose trans people

This morning Betsy Phillips at the Nashville Scene's Pith in the Wind blog notes that TN State Rep. Susan Lynn posted an article indicating that being transgender is a mental disorder.  Rep. Lynn said, "This is an excellent article that intuitively rings true...please read."  You can read Phillips' fine analysis and rebuttal here

Rep. Lynn is not getting anything close to an accurate or a complete picture of the transgender community.  Beyond that, she has spread inaccurate and incomplete information.  And to take it a step further, she legislates on issues that affect the transgender community.

We call on Rep. Lynn to avoid diagnosing people, to begin engaging the transgender community, and to learn more about the struggles trans people face with violence and discrimination.  Her vote and leadership are needed to help make transgender Tennesseans safer.

New Boards for TEP and the TEP Foundation

At today's annual meeting in Nashville, the following were elected to our boards of directors:

Tennessee Equality Project

Chair & Pres  Ginger Leonard
Vice Pres       David Glasgow
Treasurer      H.G. Stovall
Secretary       Kim-An Hernandez
At-Large        Carla Lewis
Anne Gullick
Ashford Hughes
Brian Copeland
Skip Ledbetter
Gwen Castro Schablik
Dr. Herb Zeman
Linda McFadyen-Ketchum
Toby Compton
Amanda Bolton
Kal Rocket
Virginia Awkward
Jeff Kirwan
TEP Foundation
Chair & Pres   Gwen Castro Schablik
Vice Pres        Anne Gullick
Treasurer        Pablo Juarez
Secretary         Jeff Kirwan
At-Large          Virginia Awkward
Jonathan Cole
Ginger Leonard
Brian Copeland
Dale Reifschneider
H.G. Stovall
Linda McFadyen-Ketchum
Amanda Bolton
Davin Clemons
Jimmy Edge
Carla Lewis
Dr. Valarie Radu
Kal Rocket
Congratulations to all those elected!

Effects of the "Tennessee is hopeless" industry

In the previous post, I discussed what the "Tennessee is hopeless" industry is.  I want to look at some of the effects.

Overall:  The major effect of the "Tennessee is hopeless" industry  is to shape the views of those outside our state.  Stories and blog posts along these lines almost magically push the buttons of "hillbilly," "redneck," "backward," and "what do you expect" comments. 

For example, here's a comment on a "Tennessee is hopeless" piece from March 2014: "How wonderful to see Tennessee so eager to rapidly race to the inside of the toilet bowl, just to set a good example for the rest of us. Can we legally ask this state to secede, along with Texas?"

Of course, those who write the articles aren't directly responsible for the comments, but they follow so predictably that you have to wonder whether this is the desired response.  And what is the essence of these comments?  We (the rest of the country) would rather not have to deal with you (Tennessee or the South). 

Am I being overly sensitive about a stray comment?  I don't think so.  I've watched these stories closely for 13 years and the comments that go with them.  I wish I saw significant patterns of change, but I don't.  Much of the rest of the country can't figure out why LGBT people live here if they bother enough to consider the matter.

The Money:  And that brings us to the next effect, the rest of the country doesn't deal with the LGBT movement in the South.  We don't have to secede because the rest of country already treats us as if we have done so.  There are exceptions here and there, but funding for LGBT advocacy and programs in the South is tellingly low.  As the group "Funders for LGBTQ Issues notes, about 3 in 10 LGBT adults live in the South, but the South sees about 4% of the funding spent in the United States.  The national funders haven't yet made significant advocacy investments here and the avalanche of neglect and discouraging stories and blog posts probably makes those of us who live in Tennessee and in the South hesitant to invest in the movement right here where we live.  We are taught to believe we can't win for losing.

Confronting a hopeless tide:  The overall effect can be crushing.  The rest of the country denigrates you.  The national funders don't support you.  The right-wing in your state outspends you to maintain a socially conservative culture.  Your own community and your allies hesitate because they think you can't win.  The results are closeted lives, higher STI rates, suicide, discrimination, and violence with few resources to address them from a social service or advocacy perspective.  People and organizations that attempt to stand against the tide find it hard to stand for long or as tall as they would like to. 

Next time:  In the final piece, I'll discuss some thoughts on turning things around a bit.  The hopelessness that is thrown at us in Tennessee and in the South is a big ship that can't be turned around quickly.  But there's always something we can do.

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