Baptist and Reflector
The couples, each expecting a baby this year, filed a lawsuit last week against a law mandating that undefined words in state statutes be interpreted to have “natural and ordinary” meanings. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed the measure into law May 5.
Advocates say the simple law mandates words in state legal codes not be extended or changed beyond their natural definition. One of the bill’s sponsors, Republican state Rep. Andrew Farmer, told NBC News the legislation had “nothing to do with same-sex marriage or gender.”
But lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender activists are calling the law “sneaky,” arguing it “clearly targets [LGBT] Tennesseans” by requiring words like “husband,” “wife,” “mother,” and “father” in state law apply only to opposite-sex couples.
“Make no mistake. The intent of [this bill] is clear,” Jim Obergefell, the primary plaintiff in the 2015 Supreme Court case legalizing same-sex marriage, said in a statement urging Haslam to veto the bill. “This bill is not about protecting the rights of all Tennesseans. Its intent is to harm [LGBT] Tennesseans and their families.” Obergefell said the law conflicts with federal and state laws that require gender-specific words now be interpreted as gender inclusive.
The four lesbian couples suing the state say they want the law overturned. They also want a court order clarifying that married same-sex couples and their children should be treated the same as married heterosexual couples and their children, receiving health insurance coverage and social security benefits, granting them equal hospital visitation, and if they divorce, custody rights.
The current struggle —- figuring out what to do with marriage-related words — is the result of the fact that “our law has abandoned the natural meaning of marriage,” said David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee.