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Tennessee Supreme Court
allows public vote on gay marriage ban

(Administrative Office of the Courts News Release)
(Download the full opinion)
Voters will be allowed to decide in November whether they want a constitutional ban on gay marriage in Tennessee, the state Supreme Court said in a unanimous decision filed Friday.

Had a legal challenge been successful, a public vote on the proposed amendment to the Tennessee Constitution would have been delayed by at least two years.

Writing for a united court, Chief Justice William M. Barker rejected a legal claim by the American Civil Liberties Union, three state legislators and others that would have prevented the amendment from being placed on the ballot.

“Wishing to decide this constitutional matter, as we should, on the narrowest grounds possible, we affirm the . . . decision dismissing the complaint because the Plaintiffs have failed to establish that they have standing to bring this lawsuit,” the chief justice wrote.

Justices E. Riley Anderson, Adolpho A. Birch, Jr., Janice M. Holder and Cornelia A. Clark joined in the ruling, which affirmed a lower court decision by Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle earlier this year. Because of time constraints and the importance of the issue, no intermediate appeal was heard.

Those challenging placement of the proposed amendment on the ballot argued that the General Assembly did not strictly comply with public notice and publication requirements set forth in Article 11, section 3 of the state constitution. They claimed the secretary of state published the proposed amendment for public view approximately six weeks after the constitution required.

But the court rejected the challenge on a different basis. It held that none of the plaintiffs had standing to bring the suit.

Barker wrote that “concern[s] about the proper—and properly limited—role of the courts in a democratic society” required rejection of the plaintiffs’ suit.

The chief justice said because the plaintiffs could not show any personal harm from the claimed untimely publication of the proposed amendment, they could not bring a legal claim.

Requiring all potential plaintiffs to show an “injury in fact” before their substantive legal claims can be considered “[properly] restricts the exercise of judicial power . . . [so that] the courts [are not] called upon to decide [political issues] of wide public significance,” Barker wrote.


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