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Washington County drafts resolution opposing same-sex marriage

Gary B. Gray • Updated Jan 11, 2016 at 4:23 PM

Washington County Senior Attorney Thomas Seeley III confirmed Monday he is drafting a resolution that will go before the County Commission Jan. 25 which voices disagreement on the U.S. Supreme Court’s June same-sex marriage ruling.

The resolution was generated in the commission’s Public Safety Committee Jan. 7 by Commissioner Forrest Boreing.

“There was a group of people in Johnson City and in Jonesborough that went through various channels, and they asked if I would come and meet with them,” Boreing said. “They feel the Supreme Court ruling is unconstitutional, and they wanted to see something come through the Washington County Commission. I’m just doing what I feel I’m led to do. Some of the language in other counties’ resolutions include abusive language. We are not doing that. We simply will be very clear. The six-member committee voted unanimously on this.”

Public Safety Committee Chairman Mike Ford was not immediately available for comment.

“The resolution asks that the commissioners voice disagreement with the ruling and that legislators (representing the county) take any lawful action they can to uphold the Tennessee Constitution’s definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman,” Seeley said. “It’s my understanding this is at the state level only at this point.”

The Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote on June 26 that the marriages of same-sex couples be recognized by all states, but a growing number of Tennessee county commissions are considering and/or passing resolutions opposing the decision.

Sullivan, Greene, Johnson, Morgan and McMinn counties have passed resolutions. Fourteen counties have either considered or are considering similar resolutions, and six county commissions are scheduled to vote on resolutions this month, including Carter and Unicoi counties.

Commissioner Katie Baker said she attended last week’s meeting and could not determine at the time whether there was an organized effort — through the encouragement of a group such as Family Action Council of Tennessee — to push the resolution forward.

“I will not support this resolution,” Baker said. “I’m completely heartbroken over this. I did not think our county would go to a place that’s discriminatory and hateful.”

Members of the Tennessee Equality Project want to make sure their dissenting opinion is heard at county meetings when the resolutions are considered. On Jan. 19, a group will collectively wear red and be heard at the Carter County Commission meeting. They also will attend the Washington County meeting.

“People want their county commissions to fund schools and education — to manage county departments, and supply services — not to attack part of the community,” said Tennessee Equality Project Executive Director Chris Sanders. “There will be a group there opposing this. Right now there is more than 80 people who have said they want to be there, and 42 people have RSVP’d. What they’re (commissions) saying is, ‘If we had our way, we’d split you up.’ ”

Unicoi County is considering a similar move after viewing a presentation by the Family Action Council of Tennessee, a conservative group that seeks to ensure Tennessee follows traditional, biblical values. Unicoi County’s version of this will be considered Jan. 25.

“My concern is that deliberation on this not become a sideshow,” Commissioner Joe Wise said. “This issue will generate more heat than it does light.”

Several attempts Monday to speak with the Franklin-based group responsible for many of the resolutions in the state were unsuccessful.

Family Action Council of Tennessee’s mission statement includes goals of equipping Tennesseans and their elected officials to promote and defend traditional family and cultural values. It also seeks to promote these values by embracing and upholding biblical standards.

“Neglecting commonsense biblical values contributes to many of our nation’s current ills like crime, disease, divorce, ‘unwanted’ pregnancies, teen suicide and academic failure,” the nonprofit organization professes on its website.

The Washington County Commission has eight “standing” committees, including the Public Safety Committee, which, according to county bylaws, is charged with the following:

This committee shall consider all matters concerning public safety in Washington County, especially with reference to the budget allocation to various departments that deal with public safety, including operation of the Sheriff's Department. It also deals with requirements of law enforcement and maintenance of the county jail, with the county's long-range public safety needs, as well as coordinating with the District Attorney General and other law enforcement officials not directly under Washington County's control.

Email Gary Gray at [email protected]. Like Gary B. Gray on Facebook at www.facebook.com/garybgrayjcp. Follow him on Twitter @ggrayjcpress.

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