North Carolina bans gay marriage – Does Tennessee?

09 May 2012 Categories: All Blogs

North Carolina’s constitutional amendment to define marriage between a man and a women is one of the lead stories in the news today. Many of you in Tennessee may wonder if Tennessee has a similar law. In 2006, Tennessee voters adopted a constitutional amendment to the Tennessee Constitution as set out below:

Tenn. Const. Art. XI, § 18 (2012)

Sec. 18. Marital contract defined.

The historical institution and legal contract solemnizing the relationship of one (1) man and one (1) woman shall be the only legally recognized marital contract in this state. Any policy or law or judicial interpretation, purporting to define marriage as anything other than the historical institution and legal contract between one (1) man and one (1) woman, is contrary to the public policy of this state and shall be void and unenforceable in Tennessee. If another state or foreign jurisdiction issues a license for persons to marry and if such marriage is prohibited in this state by the provisions of this section, then the marriage shall be void and unenforceable in this state.

HISTORY: [As added: Proposed by 2004 HJR 990, 103d General Assembly, Adopted May 19, 2004, Concurred in by 2005 SJR 31, 104th General Assembly, Adopted March 17, 2005, Approved in general election November 7, 2006.]

Whether or not you agree with the constitutional provision, it is important to understand one of the main reasons state lawmakers in Tennessee and North Carolina used constitutional amendments rather than only a state law. Constitutional amendments are binding on all branches of the state government. This means that the Tennessee Supreme Court cannot deem the law unconstitutional. If Tennessee were to pass a statute regarding marital rights, a case regarding that statute could come before the Tennessee Supreme Court in which it could be ruled unconstitutional. The law would therefore be overturned. Therefore, the state lawmakers in North Carolina and Tennessee, as well as some other states, have pushed for the constitutional amendment because it carries more force than adopting a new law.

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