Earlier this week a Tennessee chapter of the men’s only fraternity Freemasons voted to uphold its ban on gay members. The issue was prompted by the marriage of two Memphis area members who married shortly after last year’s Supreme Court decision that granted marriage equality nationwide.
Mark Henderson and Dennis Clark were brought up on charges of “un-Masonic” conduct last year. Though it appears their local lodge in the Memphis area is a liberal one, members of the Grand Lodge in Nashville brought the charges against the couple, who’d been members since 2007. Their trial was held in Nashville, where neither men was present to defend themselves. It prompted Clark to propose a change to the local Constitution that would remove the ban.
What are Freemasons?
The Masonic Fraternity is the oldest fraternity for men in the world. Rules in each state are set and governed by a Grand Lodge. Rules decreed by the Tennessee lodge require members to not “engage in lewd conduct. To promote or engage in homosexual activity. To cohabit immorally in a situation without the benefit of marriage.”
As a private organization, the Freemasons are free to engage or deny any person or group. It is notable, though, that only the Tennessee and Georgia Grand Lodges currently ban gay members.
More information on the history of Freemasons.
More information on how one becomes a Mason (in Tennessee).
Though it varies from lodge to lodge, Freemasons in general are secretive as it regards their ceremonies. For that reason, most information regarding the vote to uphold the ban on gay members has been recorded second-hand. Chris Hodapp, who operates the Freemasons For Dummies blog, posted this note from the meeting:
It has also been said that a dedicated Grand Lodge officer was voted out of the line today, allegedly because of his views on the sexual behavior rules.
One Brother who was allowed to speak in favor of the resolution says he was "jeered and mocked" all the way back to his seat, and was actually openly threatened by another Brother.
Though they’ve been suspended from the Grand Lodge, both Clark and Johnson stress the Freemasons are “a great organization that does good and charitable work for the community.”
graphic via wknofm