Breaking a string of at least 30 cases across the country that were ruled in favor of marriage equality, a circuit court judge in Tennessee has upheld the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Ninth Judicial District Circuit Court Judge Russell Simmons Jr. of Kingston upheld the Tennessee ban in a 7-page decision.
“The Court finds that marriage is a fundamental right,” Simmons writes. “However, neither the Tennessee Supreme Court nor the United States Supreme Court has ever decided that this fundamental right under a state’s laws extends beyond the traditional definition of marriage as a union between one (1) man and one (1) woman.”
Simmons upheld both Tennessee’s ban on same-sex marriage, approved by voters as part of the state constitution in 2006, and the state’s Anti-Recognition Law prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
Unlike other judges who have determined bans on same-sex marriage cannot withstand scrutiny following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act, Simmons determined the DOMA decision does not apply to cases against marriage laws within the states.
“The Windsor case is concerned with the definition of marriage, only as it applies to federal laws, and does not give an opinion concerning whether one State must accept as valid a same-sex marriage allowed in another state,” Simmons writes.
Instead, Simmons finds that a 1972 decision resulting from the marriage equality case of Baker v. Nelson, which the Supreme Court refused to hear for lack of federal question, is “still applicable” to the courts.
“Although the United States Supreme Court has had opportunities to overrule the Baker decision, it has refused to take that position even in the decision on which the plaintiff relies, which is United States v. Windsor,” he wrote.
The decision is the first since the 2013 Supreme Court decision Windsor v. United States to rule that a state marriage amendment was constitutional.
Simmons emphasizes that his ruling is only binding on this case and on this court. He further invites appellate courts to assess whether doctrinal developments in the judicial system after the Baker decision have changed judicial precedent with respect to marriage.
Simmons announced last November that he was retiring from the bench and has less than three months left in his term.