KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A bill that would allow county clerks and officiants to refuse solemnizing marriages based on personal belief passed the Tennessee House of Representatives on Monday.
HB 0878 was introduced by Representative Monty Fritts (R - Kingston) and he said on the House floor that he was not aware of anyone who was forced to solemnize a marriage against their beliefs.
"There's a lot of legislation with hypotheticals and unlikelies and none-case examples that are taking the time of this General Assembly," said Representative Justin Pearson (D - Memphis). "This type of legislation is harmful, not only in its practice but in the messages it is sending about who has rights in our cities, in our state and in our country. In doing this, it is helping fuel people who do not care for inclusion, people who do not care for love."
He said that he was worried that the bill was designed to allow people to refuse to solemnize same-sex marriages based on their personal beliefs without explicitly writing that into state law. The law adds a short section into the state code, Section 36-3-301, that only says people would not be required to solemnize a marriage.
County clerks and their staff would be included in that subsection.
On the House floor, Fritts denied that the bill would explicitly allow people to refuse to solemnize same-sex marriages. He said he believed that there was an attack on "civil liberties and rights" and said the bill was meant to document that people could not be "forced to solemnize a marriage."
He said he was not aware of anyone that has been forced to solemnize a marriage in Tennessee, but also said he thought it was irrelevant whether someone had already been made to solemnize a marriage.
In late December, President Joe Biden signed gay marriage legislation into law at the federal level. That law was designed to safeguard gay marriages should the U.S. Supreme Court reverse the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which legalized same-sex unions. It also protects interracial marriages.
The law did not require states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples but says states will need to recognize marriages from elsewhere in the country.
The Human Rights Campaign said the bill targeted the LGBTQ community. The Tennessee Equality Project executive director, Chris Sanders, also released a statement about the bill and many other anti-LGBTQ bills filed in the legislature. It is below.
“The Tennessee House of Representatives continues to be one of the most dangerous legislative chambers in the country for LGBTQ+ people. They have ignored constituents in their offices, phone calls, and compelling committee testimony. It is time they became the People's House again.”
The bill was expected to be discussed in the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 13. It was deferred in the committee until Jan. 23, 2024.