Home » Tennessee governor signs law allowing public officials to decline to perform marriages they disagree with

Tennessee governor signs law allowing public officials to decline to perform marriages they disagree with

by John Jefferson
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Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill Wednesday allowing public officials to decline to perform marriages based on their “conscience or religious beliefs.” 

The measure, known as SB 596 – HB 878, stated that a person, “shall not be required to solemnize a marriage if the person has an objection to solemnizing the marriage based on the person’s conscience or religious beliefs.” 

It was interpreted by LGBTQ activists to mean public officials could refuse to perform the ceremonies for same-sex marriages, but one of the bill’s primary sponsors in the state House, Republican Rep. Monty Fritts, said the bill could also combat elder abuse in situations where young people might be marrying someone for access to financial accounts, The Hill reported. 

One of the bill’s primary sponsors in the Tennessee Senate, Republican Sen. Mark Pody, argued last week that the legislative proposal had “nothing to do with getting a license.” 

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In a memo last March, when the measure first cleared the state House, Krista Lee Carsner, executive director of the Tennessee General Assembly Fiscal Review Committee, said the legislative proposal, “is not expected to have any significant impact on the number of marriages solemnized in Tennessee nor on the number of marriage licenses issued; therefore, any fiscal impact to state or local government is estimated to be not significant.” 

The bill was approved by state lawmakers last week and headed to the governor’s desk. The state legislature website indicated that Lee, a Republican, signed it into law on Wednesday. 

Lee has not yet publicly commented on the signing of the measure. Fox News Digital reached out to the governor’s office for comment on Thursday. 

Tennessee state legislature

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Under the law, a public official cannot deny couples marriage licenses based on their religious beliefs. It does say that public officials, including county clerks, cannot be mandated to perform formal marriage ceremonies. 

The bill cleared the state House in March 2023, just days before the General Assembly decided to defer consideration of the bill until 2024, The Hill reported. 

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Last week, Molly Whitehorn, associate director of regional campaigns for LGBTQ advocacy group,the Human Rights Campaign, condemned the legislation, arguing that the bill “is intended to exclude LGBTQ+ folks from equal protection under the law,” according to The Hill. 

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