A Tennessee judge has become the first to rule in favor of a marriage law since the Supreme Court's 2013 Windsor decision that overturned the key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
In a seven-page decision issued last week and made public this week, Judge Russell Simmons said Tennessee's law defining marriage as between a man and a woman was constitutional under the federalism principles outlined in Windsor. Simmons, a trial judge, was hearing the case of two women who were “married” in Iowa and wanted a “divorce.”
According to Simmons, the 1972 Supreme Court case Baker v. Nelson upholds a states’ right to establish their own laws on marriage.
“Baker holds that a state's law on same-sex marriage do not violate the equal protection or substantive due process rights under the United States Constitution.”
He also noted that the Supreme Court did not overturn Baker in its 2013 DOMA case. The Windsor decision “does not go the final step and find” that state laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman are unconstitutional.
“The Windsor case is concerned with the definition of marriage, only as it applies to federal laws, and does not give an opinion concerning whether one State must accept as valid a same-sex marriage allowed in another State,” Simmons said.
Bryan Fischer, the American Family Association’s director of issue analysis, praised Simmons' ruling. “At last we have a judge who apparently has actually read the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision and followed it,” Fischer told LifeSiteNews. “The Court made it clear in Windsor that historically and constitutionally defining marriage in America has always been an issue that is reserved for the states. The Constitution is silent about marriage, which means that under the 10th Amendment this is exclusively a matter for Tennessee to decide.”
“Bravo for Judge Simmons for doing his job and refusing to legislate from the bench.”
The Heritage Foundation's Ryan Anderson likewise praised the decision, writing at The Daily Signal, “our federal Constitution is silent on what marriage is. Judges should not insert their own policy preferences about marriage and declare them to be required by the Constitution.”
The National Organization for Marriage's Brian Brown said in a statement, “This important decision … undercuts the narrative that same-sex marriage is inevitable.”
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Both Brown and Human Rights Campaign press secretary Charles Joughin — who disagreed with the decision — said the ultimate question of constitutionality would come from the Supreme Court.
“Inevitably, the Supreme Court of the United States will have to be the ultimate decider on this issue, and so far they have nineteen federal court rulings to look to that say these discriminatory marriage bans are unconstitutional,” Joughin told The Hill.
However, Brown said, “NOM is confident that when this issue reaches the US Supreme Court, likely within a few months, that the constitutionality of marriage amendments and statutes defining marriage as one man and one woman will be upheld.”
After a 6th Circuit Court of Appeals hearing last week, supporters of redefining marriage have expressed concern that a federal court could back laws favoring marriage. Some believe the three-judge panel examining the laws of Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky may end up breaking the streak of federal decisions in favor of redefining marriage.