In 2016, Sabrina and Erica Witt became the first same-sex couple to file for divorce in Tennessee. Their story made national news not only because they wished to divorce, but because of the heart-breaking custody battle that ensued. Eventually, Knox County 4th Circuit Court Judge Greg McMillan ruled that despite Erica’s sex, she would be granted the same legal rights to parenting time with her daughter that any biological father would have been. It should have been a happy ending to a tragic story about the dissolution of a family.
But as it turns out, the case did not officially end there.
A brash attempt to circumvent the law
Days before Judge McMillan ruled, Governor Haslam signed House Bill 1111 (or Senate Bill 1085) into law. That law, as we wrote about at the time, “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,” by insisting that all words in any given order be defined per their “natural meaning.” Thus, a “father” could only be interpreted as a male parent, and “mother” as a female parent. By defining the words this way, same-sex couples would effectively be excluded from the right to parenting time.
Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery said that this law was unconstitutional, and Judge McMillan refused to allow a group of legislators to intervene with his decision. Those legislators appealed.
And they lost.
The appellate court this week backed McMillan’s decision, saying the legislators had no right to involve themselves in citizens’ private lives….
“While the (legislators) apparently wish to force the actual parties to the suit, Sabrina and Erica, to continue their dispute in court, those parties have chosen not to do so. Put simply, the divorce case is over, and there is no lawsuit left in which to intervene.”
And just to drive the point home, Tennessee Court of Appeals Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney has ordered the legislators to pay for the costs of the appeal.
Same-sex marriage is legal in this country: in every state, in every town, and in every jurisdiction. The 52 state representatives, 19 state senators, and governor tried to “pull a fast one” to push their agenda, with no thought to how these laws affect real people going through real tragedies. We hope that the Witts can finally put this behind them, and go on to live happy and successful lives.
Miller Upshaw Family Law, PLLC, is proud to represent LGBTQ clients in all manner of family law and divorce proceedings. Our Nashville child custody lawyers offer comprehensive and aggressive counsel, and can help you move forward. Please call 615-454-9899 or contact us to reserve a consultation with a skilled member of our team.
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