Your Legal Guide Through Life’s Twists And Turns

Could a new Tennessee bill hurt same-sex marriage rights?

| May 5, 2017 | Divorce

Gay rights activists are concerned that a new bill, recently passed by the Tennessee legislature, could hurt the marriage rights of same-sex couples. The bill, House Bill 1111, relates to the way state courts will need to interpret “undefined words.” Specifically, House Bill 1111 says that “undefined words shall be given their natural and ordinary meaning.”

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) groups worry that this could result in discrimination due to gender-specific words like “wife,” “mother,” “father” and “husband,” which may not have the same kind of meaning in the context of same-sex marriage and same-sex divorce. According to another bill, for example, these words are “based on the biological distinctions between men and women.” These distinctions, unfortunately, don’t include transgender or intersex individuals. LGBTQ groups are now asking the governor to veto the legislation because it could result in civil rights abuses against LGBTQ people.

In addition to saying that words will receive their natural and ordinary meanings, House Bill 1111 also states that the interpretation of state laws will not include “forced or subtle construction that would limit or extend the meaning of the language, except when a contrary intention is clearly manifest.” Although this language may be difficult to understand, it certainly is possible that it could have an effect on LGBTQ rights. Nevertheless, we will have to wait to see if the law is enacted until we can observe its true results.

Regardless if House Bill 1111 becomes law, Tennessee same-sex couples do face unique legal challenges compared to those in traditional marriages. If you and your spouse are a same-sex couple, an experienced Tennessee family law attorney can help you navigate any such challenges that you may encounter during your marriage.

Source:, “LGBTQ Groups Fear Tennessee Bill Would Roll Back Civil Rights,” April 30, 2017


FindLaw Network