In May 2017, Governor Bill Haslam signed a law that required the words in Tennessee law to be interpreted according to their “natural,” and “ordinary meaning.” You might read that and wonder why Tennessee would need a law such as this, but then you discover that it is actually an underhanded way of denying the same legal protections to same-sex couples because the law offers those protections only to “mother” and “father,” and “husband” and “wife.”
Tennessee’s House Bill 1111 (also known as Senate Bill 1085), effectively defines marriage in the state of Tennessee as being only between a man and a woman and it limits the way any “undefined words” in the law might be interpreted.
The Human Rights Campaign, a LGBT advocacy group, has reported that no other state in the U.S. has a law such as this one.
Governor Haslam pointed out that this new law does not in any way interfere with the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to make marriage equality the law of the land, knowing that this law sets a precarious precedent which denies parental rights and delegitimizes same-sex couples in Tennessee.
A response to a precedent-setting case from Knox County
Last year, lesbian mother Erica Witt was informed by Judge Greg McMillan that just because she was a woman who is legally married to another woman, Tennessee law does not confer to her parental rights. (Witt was embroiled in a custody battle with her former wife over parental rights and shared custody of the baby girl with whom Witt does not share any biological ties.) Despite the initial ruling, the judge overturned his own ruling, and “penned approval of a divorce for same-sex couple Sabrina Witt and Erica Witt that includes designation of Erica Witt as the father of the couple’s daughter, conceived through artificial insemination,” as reported by the Knoxville News Sentinel on May 10, 2017.
A few days before the reversal, HB 1111 was signed into law by the governor.
Chris Sanders, spokesperson for The Tennessee Equality Project, told NBCNews.com that this new law “makes Tennessee a target for national economic boycotts.”
With this stroke of the pen by Governor Haslam, Erica Witt has lost all hope of being recognized as the child’s co-parent or being granted parental rights in the child’s life.
This recent change in Tennessee law continues to be antagonistic towards the rights of same-sex couples, which makes resolving child custody disputes challenging. Our Nashville family law attorney team has more than 30 years of combined experience guiding families toward resolving conflict. We are located on Woodland Street in historic Edgefield, and our Nashville office is within sight of the courthouse with free parking. We encourage you to call Miller Upshaw Family Law, PLLC today at 615-454-9899 or contact us to schedule a consultation with an experienced Nashville divorce attorney.