Judge dismisses lawsuit challenging ‘natural and ordinary’ law; rules it had no impact on same-sex marriage rights

Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle on Friday dismissed a lawsuit challenging the “natural and ordinary” bill enacted by the legislature earlier this year, but a lawyer for the lesbian couples who filed the legal challenge tells The Tennessean that the ruling is nonetheless a victory.

Basically, the judge ruled the new law didn’t accomplish anything to change rights of same-sex couples, who have the same rights as heterosexual couples when they are parents. Thus, since the law doesn’t discriminate, she dismissed the lawsuit attacking it.

The four same-sex couples are expectant parents of children conceived through artificial insemination. The legislation, signed by Gov. Bill Haslam in early May, says that courts should give words their “natural and ordinary” meaning in legal interpretations.

A current Tennessee statute setting out parental rights in divorce cases uses the words “husband” and  “wife.”  In Knoxville divorce case involving a lesbian couple, a judge ruled at one point ruled the words – given their natural and ordinary meaning — mean the spouse of the biological mother in an artificial insemination situation has no parental rights. The judge subsequently reversed that ruling and the case is now on appeal.

In the Nashville lawsuit, the plaintiffs contended the new “natural and ordinary” law wrongfully discriminates against same-sex couples. Lyle declared in an order dismissing the lawsuit that it does not, basically adopting the same reasoning as the Knoxville judge in reversing himself and declaring that the spouse of a mother does, indeed, have parental rights – and that the new law didn’t change that situation.

In her order, Lyle said Tennessee officials must “accord same-sex parents the same right as opposite-sex parents to be named on a child’s birth certificate.”

“As the law of the land, the constitutional rights of same-sex married couples to be treated equally to opposite-sex couples with regard to the application of a state’s birth certificate laws ‘can neither be nullified openly and directly by state legislators or state executive or judicial officers,'” Lyle wrote, quoting a 1958 case.

…Julia Tate-Keith, co-council for the couples, heralded the chancellor’s order, saying it afforded same-sex couples protections that lawmakers sought to deny.

“We have a Tennessee court order saying same-sex couples are to be treated the same as opposite-sex couples,” Tate-Keith said.

.. “If they (legislators) were trying to use the law to prevent same sex marriages from full parenting rights, they lost,” (Chris) Smith (another plaintiff lawyer) said.

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