TEP and ACLU join forces to fight for marriage equality

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NASHVILLE – The Tennessee American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) filed a joint lawsuit today, Thursday, April 21 st, to challenge a proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as a contract exclusively between one man and one woman.

The basis for the lawsuit stems from failure on the part of the state to comply with procedural requirements regarding notification as outlined in the State Constitution.

Attorneys in the case are Melody Fowler-Green, ACLU-TN staff attorney, and ACLU-TN Cooperating Attorney Abby Rubenfeld of Rubenfeld Law Office.

TEP has issued a statement outlining their reasons for joining with the ACLU to oppose the ballot initiative. They point to the fact that the amendment seeks to incorporate discrimination against GLBT’s and relegate them to “second-class status.” They also perceive the efforts on the part of the amendment’s supporters as doing harm to GLBT families seeking to have stable homes in which to raise their children.

TEP further states, “The board and members of the Tennessee Equality Project will continue our work in the General Assembly to fight for fair laws for all the people of Tennessee.”

In addition to the ACLU and TEP, State Representatives Larry Turner, Beverly Robison Marrero and Tommie Brown, and a number of private citizens are also named as plaintiffs in the case.

They list their reasons for doing so in a public statement, "When we took office, we swore that we would uphold the Tennessee Constitution. The Tennessee Constitution is what keeps us honest. When we no longer follow the rules, democracy is sacrificed. We are joining in this lawsuit because it’s our duty to make sure that when we consider proposals to amend the State Constitution, we follow the rules. That didn’t happen here."

Led by Senator Jeff Miller (R-Cleveland), the so-called Marriage Protection Amendment passed on third reading by a vote of 29-3 in the Senate. The bill proposing the amendment was approved by the 103 rd Tennessee General Assembly and will go to the voters in 2006 barring a reversal in the courts.

The law requires that a six-month notice containing the text of the amendment must be published in Tennessee newspapers at least six months prior to the next election of the General Assembly. The Secretary of State did not fulfill this requirement until June 20, 2004. With the subsequent election occurring on November 2, 2004, the four months and 12 days period failed to meet the requisite mandated in the state constitution.

“By requiring the state to publish proposed amendments to the constitution six months before the elections, the citizens are given the opportunity to properly debate an issue of such fundamental importance and decide if they want to reelect the legislators who proposed it or choose to elect someone else instead. Failure to meet the six month publication requirement renders the proposal unconstitutional and invalidates the amending process,” said Melody Fowler-Green, ACLU-TN staff attorney.