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TN Gov Protects Public Officials' Right to Perform Weddings Based on Their Beliefs

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Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed into law Wednesday a bill that will allow public officials to refuse to perform wedding services based on their "conscience or religious beliefs."

HB 878 states 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." 

Marriages can be solemnized by religious leaders or government officials including judges, notaries public, and elected officials.

The bill does not allow officials to deny marriage licenses to couples based on their beliefs but does allow them to decline to solemnize a marriage. 

The bill was introduced by Rep. Monty Fritts last January.  

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"As societal views change about what constitutes a marriage, officiants must be able to refuse to solemnize marriages that are contrary to their beliefs," Fritts said during a state Subcommittee on Children and Family Affairs meeting. "The government has a responsibility to protect the exercise of religious beliefs. … Those with the authority to perform civil ceremonies would also be permitted to refuse to solemnize marriage for reasons of conscience."

The state House passed an amended bill, which added a subsection to Tennessee law on marriages and included County clerks and their staff as part of the group of government officials who could choose to solemnize a marriage, WBIR-TV reported. 

Critics of the bill say it will "exclude LGBTQ+ folks from equal protection under the law." 

"What I think is problematic about this law is it could give county clerks some discretion, and in fact incentivize them to not solemnize a marriage. A county clerk is quite often an elected official, and that person may feel some pressure based on let's say, whether it's someone in a rural county, to use the law, the statute, to deny a marriage ceremony to a disfavored minority group, like let's say a gay couple," Akram Faizer, an associate professor of law at Lincoln Memorial University, told WBIR-TV.

"Public officials don't get to assume public office and then pick and choose which members of the public to serve," Camilla Taylor, deputy legal director for litigation for Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ legal advocacy group, told CNN.

But Senator Mark Pody, who sponsored the bill, argued last month that the bill is not discriminatory because people can still get marriage licenses. 

"This has nothing to do with getting a license. It has nothing to do with the clerk required to give a license. It just says those words, and that's all there is to it," he explained. 

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About The Author


Talia Wise has served as a multi-media producer for, CBN Newswatch, The Prayer Link, and CBN News social media outlets. Prior to joining CBN News she worked for Fox Sports Florida producing and reporting. Talia earned a master’s degree in journalism from Regent University and a bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia.