Tennessee judge breaks gay marriage's streak

A judge in Tennessee broke a streak of successful rulings across the country in the past year in favor of same-sex marriage. 

State Circuit Court Judge Russell Simmons Jr. ruled the state's ban on recognizing gay marriages does not violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution. 

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His ruling last week — first flagged by SCOTUS blog on Monday — stands in contrast to the dozens of state, federal and appeals court decisions that have struck down bans on gay marriage since the United States V. Windsor Supreme Court case in 2013. That ruling struck down a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, but Simmons said it did not apply to the Tennessee case. 

"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," he wrote. 

He added: "The Supreme Court does not go the final step and find that a state that defines marriages as a union of one man and one woman is unconstitutional."

Simmons also adopted a portion of Tennessee's argument that the law has a rational basis because "marriage and procreation are fundamental to the very existence and survival for the race … the promotion of family continuity and stability is certainly a legitimate state interest."

The case involved a couple who was married outside of Tennessee but who wanted a divorce in the state, which would require a brief recognition of the marriage. The question did not touch on Tennessee's ban on issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. 

Earlier in March, a federal judge in the state ruled in the opposite direction, finding that the marriages of three separate couples should be recognized. That case is being appealed in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The only other two judges who have ruled in favor of the bans after Windsor came in dissenting appeals court decisions in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia. However, the majority in those cases struck down the bans.

Human Rights Campaign press secretary Charles Joughin noted the decision stands in contrast to the "wave" of other rulings around the country.

"Inevitably the Supreme Court of the United States will have to be the ultimate decider on this issue, and so far they have nineteen federal court rulings to look to that say these discriminatory marriage bans are unconstitutional," he said. 

—Updated 11:15 a.m.

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