In November 2013, a combination partner benefits/non-discrimination ordinance passed the Chattanooga City Council and was signed into law by Mayor Andy Berke. In August 2014 it was repealed by a majority of the voters. Now Councilman Chris Anderson is bringing back the non-discrimination portion of the ordinance. It is up for first reading on July 14.
The ordinance adds sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the city's non-discrimination policy for government employees. Marriage equality doesn't automatically bring workplace equality and there are no federal or state protections in statute for LGBT people. So the policy is important. It matches what Metro Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis, and Knox County have already done.
Advocates are encouraging citizens supporting the ordinance to wear red and attend the July 7 Council meeting. RSVP at the link.
If your Chattanooga-area business, congregation, or community organization would like to endorse equal protection for city employees, it's easy. Just endorse it at this form or email us at [email protected] and we'll add your name to a public list of endorsing organizations.
You probably saw the story about the hardware store owner in East Tennessee who put up the sign forbidding "gays" after the Supreme Court struck down state bans on marriage by same-sex couples.
Sadly, one the results was predictable. The whole region was painted with the broad brush of hate, even though people in East Tennessee widely reviled the store owner's actions.
What's actually going on with businesses in East Tennessee and the movement for equality? David Payne, a TEP volunteer, has been actively recruiting members of Tennessee Open For Business in the Region. Here are just a few of the recent additions to the program:
Price & Associates REALTORS®, LLC
Smoky Mountain Media Group
Anchors Hair Company
Bliss Home, Market Square
James Freeman Interiors
Tennessee School of Beauty
Three Rivers Market
Top Shelf Express LLC
Parlour (aka Palmer Sampson Designs)
The Knoxville Pearl
Ijams Nature Center
AC Entertainment (Bonnaroo)
La Roy’s Hair Salon
Nothing Too Fancy
RFC Co. dba Johnstone Supply
Chattanooga Ghost Tours
Katherine Stinnett Photography
Sanctuary Massage and Bodywork
Amy Petulla, Attorney/Mediator
And what do members of Tennessee Open For Business pledge? They pledge not to discriminate against their employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity and they pledge to serve their customers without discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Any business in Tennessee can join by filling out the form at the link.
I often get asked a great question--"Will county clerks immediately begin providing marriage licenses to same-sex couples if the Supreme Court strikes down the ban?"
Maybe, but probably not.
First, most if not all county clerks will check with their county law director, who is probably going to be looking for guidance from the Tennessee Attorney General. It's not clear how much time that process might take.
Second, clerks may be delayed because they need new forms from Vital Records in the Tennessee Department of Health.
Neither interpreting the opinion nor creating and sending out new forms SHOULD take long, but state government doesn't always work on our timetable. It may take hours or days.
The other issue to consider is that Supreme Court rulings often take effect 25 days later. We don't know whether the situation will be different with this opinion.
So we're going to be ready for immediate marriages or the delays. If the delays drag on at the state level or with individual county clerks, we will work with our partners at the ACLU-TN and other local attorneys to break through the logjam.
Last night was the big mayoral candidate forum for the LGBT and ally community hosted by the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce, the Tennessee Stonewall Bar Association, Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, and Tennessee Equality Project.
Every candidate announced support for marriage equality and every candidate indicated a willingness to officate the weddings of same-sex couples.
On the eve of the Supreme Court marriage ruling this is good news. No doubt a general shift in attitudes around the country has helped. But let's not forget the work of current Nashville Mayor Karl Dean who has taken so many first leaps in Tennessee. Mayor Dean was the first in Tennessee to sign Freedom to Marry's pledge and he was the first to sign and work for an inclusive non-discrimination ordinance brought by the Metro Council. His public stands on concrete issues, including his opposition to anti-equality state legislation, have sent a strong signal that Nashville is and must be a welcoming place. It's great that all the candidates to replace him are in tune with where the city is heading.
If the Supreme Court strikes down state marriage bans, we fully expect several days of joyful celebrations as couples go get married. We have not heard of any specific threats and we generally expect county clerk offices to be safe. In many cases, the Sheriff's Office is close by or there is security on site, as there is in Nashville.
Nevertheless, opponents of marriage equality have been escalating their rhetoric. Violence and other disturbances are still a possibility. The bomb threat against the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center took place just last month. We want you to be safe if you are going to get married or going to help once clerks start providing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Follow these steps:
1. Go together if you are getting married. You have to appear together at the clerk's office in most cases if you are getting married. If you are going as a marriage guardian, consider finding someone to accompany you.
2. Remember that protests are legal. Opponents are misguided, but they have the right to protest the Supreme Court decision. They do not have the right to touch/strike you, block your entrance to the county clerk's office, or threaten you. You may encounter protests. If you do, contact us after you get your marriage license at [email protected] .
3. If you are grabbed, blocked, or threatened, get to safety (which may include the inside of the clerk's office) and call 911, your Sheriff's Office (or Metro Police if you're in Nashville). Do not risk harm to yourself; return when it is safe if necessary. After you have contacted law enforcement, let us know at [email protected] or text 615-390-5252 and let us know your name, county, and situation.
4. Major Emergencies. If you hear gun shots or explosions, FLEE immediately. Call 911 or local law enforcement. After you get to safety and have contacted local law enforcement, contact us at [email protected] or text 615-390-5252 so that we can make others aware.
Once clerks begin providing licenses to same-sex couples, we believe in the vast majority of cases that everyone will be safe. No county government in this state wants violence on its property and we believe law enforcement and security will do everything in their power to make you safe. It is prudent to be aware and have a plan in case things become dangerous, though.
The Summer of Love tour came to McMinnville today and we had our first marriage proposal. Kris, the tour stop organizer, proposed to his partner Gregory on bended knee and 27 of us including allies were there to witness this incredible expression of hope and love. We think there was another first as well. It may have been the first public LGBT event ever in McMinnville. It won't be the last, though. I detected a strong interest among the group to meet on a regular basis.
We are grateful to Kris and Gregory for hosting us and for sharing their big moment with us.
The region, like much of the rural South, could use more moments that celebrate diversity and inclusion. I was reminded of that on the way from Nashville. I drove to Murfreesboro and caught Mercury Blvd. through Woodbury and on into McMinnville. There are historical markers for the Trail of Tears and a spot where Confederate Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest rested on his way to what was then called Murfreesborough. Ghosts of a bloody past peeking out from behind some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the state where wild turkeys and deer still roam (I saw both).
I believe LGBT people and allies can help take the region forward and I met a lot of people today who are going to try.
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.
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 [email protected] .
|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
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 [email protected] .
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.