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.”

In the lawsuit filed last month in Davidson County Chancery Court, the couples say they fear the law will be used to interpret gender-specific words literally so one parent won’t be recognized.

The state’s response says the new law only codifies a longstanding rule, and “in no way changes the law that has been in existence for decades.”

The new law should be considered alongside a more-specific state law requiring gender-specific words to be interpreted as inclusive, the state’s motion says. Previously, Slatery issued an opinion that said a judge would likely side with the state law requiring gender-inclusive interpretations.

The couples who filed the lawsuit acknowledge that the Tennessee Department of Health already recognizes the wife of a woman who gives birth through artificial insemination as the other parent, according to the motion.

The couples “assert nothing more than a theoretical ‘fear’ that the Department will act differently in the future and a desire for ‘protection’ from that hypothetical and contingent eventuality,” the state’s motion says.

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