Lawsuit challenging same-sex marriage dismissed in Bradley County

Former Sen. David Fowler (R-Signal Mountain), right, speaks to Rep. Darren Jernigan (D-Nashville) on March 7, 2018.

Different court, same result. A judge in Bradley County has dismissed a lawsuit filed by former state Sen. David Fowler, the head of the state chapter of the Family Action Council, seeking to challenge same-sex marriage licenses in Tennessee, the Cleveland Banner reports.

The case was filed on behalf of the Rev. Guinn E. Green, pastor of the Kinser Church of God, and Bradley County Commissioner Howard Thompson against County Clerk Donna Simpson for issuing the marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. The lawsuit claimed the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell ruling had essentially voided Tennessee’s marriage laws, which define that union as being only being being a man and a woman.

In his ruling late last week, Circuit Court Judge Michael Pemberton noted a similar case, Grant et. al. v.  Elaine Anderson, was decided by the Tennessee Court of Appeals in May 2018. It found the petitioners did not have standing to bring the case.

“Given the identical nature in each case,” Pemberton said, he was “constrained to follow the law set down by the Court of Appeals.”

The plaintiffs in that case wanted “a declaration that those provisions of the Tennessee law relative to the licensing of marriages are no longer valid and enforceable” as a result of the Obergefell decision. They argued they had been “deprived of their right to ‘indirectly vote’ on the laws prescribing the duties of the county clerk.”

But the court noted in its 3-0 decision that nobody had been deprived of their marriage licenses.

“Instead, they complain of the issuance of marriage license to others,” the opinion stated.


Simpson attorney James F. Logan Jr., told the Cleveland Banner he hopes the decision will bring the matter to a close.

“It has cost the county thousands of dollars,” according to Logan, who said his firm has billed the county for tens of thousands of dollars in legal work related to the case.

“Donna Simpson was performing her duties as required by the State of Tennessee and the various departments of state government including public health, the Bureau of Vital Statistics and the state attorney general,” Logan said.

Fowler hasn’t ruled out pursuing an appeal.

“We have 30 days to decide what we are going to do,” Fowler told the Banner. “We will be discussing the steps we can take under the rules of civil procedure or appeal.”

But County Commissioner Howard Thompson told the newspaper he may longer abandon the case against the county clerk.

“It’s costing the county money,” Thompson said. “I don’t think prolonging it would be doing the right thing.”

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