sexual orientation

Norris questioned on gay marriage at hearing on confirmation as U.S. judge; no vote taken

Tennessee state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, nominated for a federal judgeship in West Tennessee, told U.S. senators Wednesday he considers the legality of same-sex marriage to be a settled issue and that he would follow it as a precedent if confirmed to the bench, reports Michael Collins.

The Senate Judiciary Committee took no vote Wednesday on whether to confirm President Donald Trump’s nomination of Norris, R-Colliervile, leaving that to another meeting.  Norris has supported state legislation that critics argue would undermine the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling that legalized gay marriage in 2015.

He also was one of the leading sponsors of a state resolution calling for a federal Constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman. (Note: The apparent reference is to SJR27 back in 2003, which had then-Sen.  David Fowler, now head of the Family Action Council of Tennessee and a staunch opponent of gay marriage, as prime sponsor and Norris as a co-sponsor.)

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UT says only private donations will fund LGBT pride center

The University of Tennessee Knoxville is using private funds to operate its LGBT pride center following last year’s decision by state lawmakers to strip state dollars from the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, reports the News Sentinel.

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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.

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UT chancellor plans to bring back a director for LGBT Pride Center

University of Tennessee-Knoxville Chancellor Beverly Davenport is making plans to bring back a director for its LGBT pride center, reports the News Sentinel.

For the last year, the job has been unfilled after the Tennessee legislature decided to redirect funds from the school’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion and the part-time position was eliminated, forcing students to run the center on their own with some administrative oversight from the dean of students.

Student and faculty groups such as the Pride Center Working Group have for the last several months called for UT and Davenport to hire a pride center director and put in place other initiatives aimed at promoting and preserving diversity on campus.

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AG in court filing: ‘Natural and ordinary’ law does ‘nothing new at all’

Start of an Associated Press report:

NASHVILLE (AP) — A new law that’s been criticized as discriminatory against same-sex couples actually does “nothing new at all,” Tennessee’s attorney general contends in a legal filing.

Attorney General Herbert Slatery made that argument last week in a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by four married lesbian couples expecting children through artificial insemination.

The law requires using the “natural and ordinary meaning” of words in state law. Gay rights groups have contended that the requirement offers a sneaky way to deny same-sex couples the legal rights and protections granted to a “husband,” a “wife,” a “father” or “mother.”

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Judge ignores ‘natural and ordinary meaning’ of ‘husband;’ rejects legislator intervention in lesbian divorce

Knox County Circuit Court Judge Greg McMillan has granted a woman the legal rights of a husband, reports the News Sentinel, changing an earlier ruling to stand in apparent direct conflict with the “natural and ordinary meaning” law recently approved by the legislature and signed by Gov. Bill Haslam.

In a reversal from his decision last year, McMillan last week 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.

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Lesbian couples challenge ‘natural and ordinary’ bill in court

Just four days after Gov. Bill Haslam signed the “natural and ordinary meaning” bill into law, four lesbian couples – expectant parents of children conceived through artificial insemination – have filed a lawsuit contending the measure is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit was filed in Davidson County Chancery Court, naming Haslam, state Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner and the Tennessee Department of Health as defendants.

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Haslam signs ‘natural and ordinary meaning’ bill

Despite a campaign by LGBT advocacy groups urging him to veto the “natural and ordinary meaning” bill, Gov. Bill Haslam has signed the measure into law.

Here’s the press release:

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More calls for Haslam veto of ‘natural and ordinary’ bill from backers of LGBT rights

Advocates for LBGT rights held a news conference Wednesday to urge Gov. Bill Haslam to veto the ”natural and ordinary” bill, though it’s a pretty safe bet he will not do so. Speakers included Jim Obergefell, an Ohio real estate broker who was lead plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court decision (entitled Obergefell v. Hodges) that validated same-sex marriages.

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‘Natural and ordinary’ bill approved, brings LGBT complaints to deferring Haslam

Excerpt from an Associated Press report:

Words in state law must be interpreted as having “natural and ordinary meaning” under a bill passed by the Tennessee Senate on Thursday. Critics call it a sneaky way of encouraging state judges to deny rights to same-sex couples and transgender people.

LGBT groups lamented the 23-6 vote and immediately began prodding Republican Gov. Bill Haslam for a veto, but his spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals said he is “deferred to the will of the legislature.” The House approved the same legislation last month.

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