A bill on marriage licensure creates confusion, unease in LGBTQ community

marriage, wedding
Posted at 6:04 PM, Mar 10, 2023

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A new bill that states “a person shall not be required to solemnize a marriage” is causing mass confusion in the state.

People have been interpreting it in many ways, and some say it’s another piece of legislation to target the LGBTQ+ community.

Some have interpreted the bill as it will be legal for clerks to refuse issuing a marriage license because it goes against their religion or personal beliefs.

Wedding officiant Eric A. Patton said House Bill 878 and Senate Bill 596 has nothing to do with a license.

"Solemnization is not issuing a license. When the clerk issues you a license it’s issuing you a license. They are not performing the marriage rites," Patton said.

Rep. Monty Fritts is the sponsor of House Bill 878.

"This bill was designed to be simply and clearly to protect the rights of the officiate or officiates of wedding ceremonies," Rep. Fritts said.

Rep. Justin J. Pearson questions Rep. Fritt's bill.

"There is no example of this, and yet we are creating legislation about it. You sponsor, don’t even have one example where someone has refused," Rep. Pearson said.

Ministers do already have the religious freedom to not conduct a same-sex marriage in Tennessee, so the bill is creating confusion.

Patton took to social media to clear up some rumors about the bill.

Patton said he has officiated hundreds of weddings and same-sex couple ceremonies. He said there are really no clerks solemnizing a wedding.

"In 2015 when marriage equality happened most everybody who could solemnize just quit doing it because they didn’t want to end up being sued for refusing to do a marriage," Patton explained.

Mike Heaton-Gill and his husband know what it’s like to be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. Not long ago, a wedding venue in Madison refused to host their ceremony.

"To get such a blatant response of 'we don’t offer gay weddings here' seemed so strange here. We thought things were more progressive, especially in the Nashville area," Mike Heaton-Gill said.

He thinks with recent bills signed into law targeting the trans youth and drag performers, it’s easy to make assumptions about the intentions of the bill but understands how someone could.

"I think it’s the vagueness that brings me to my conclusions, but it is very easy to see a headline and role with it," Heaton-Gill said.

Heaton-Gill thinks it’s another bill meant to create chaos and hurt people.

"If the point of it is just to be religious leaders then just say that. The fact it just says anyone which could include civil servants is a problem for me and I think a lot of people," Heaton-Gill said.

The bill has passed the House. It's on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s calendar for consideration on Monday.

Heaton-Gill and his husband Cody have been married now for five months, after finding a venue in Murfreesboro to host their wedding.

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