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Hill, Van Huss say they'll fight for "historical institution," await resolution

Gary B. Gray • Updated Jan 19, 2016 at 9:40 AM

On Jan. 25, Washington County commissioners will vote on a resolution that seeks support for the “historical institution” of marriage and calls on state legislators to fight to maintain the Tennessee Constitution’s definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman.

Republican state Reps. Matthew Hill and Micah Van Huss praised the resolution Monday and said they will support action on the state level that keeps traditional marriage in place and allows state, county and city workers to opt out of performing same-sex marriages or issuing licenses on religious grounds.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

Hill and Van Huss say the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution only endows certain rights at the federal level and does not give the high court dominion over powers “reserved for the states or the people.”

“I totally disagree with the Supreme Court ruling, because they have no right to redefine marriage as defined by our state constitution,” Hill said. “As for the Washington County resolution, I’m very appreciative. Five judges do not have a right to wipe away a state’s constitution with a definition of marriage that’s thousands of years old.”

Hill said legislation is in the works that would enter into state law the General Assembly’s nullification of the U.S. Supreme Court decision. Another bill is coming that, under state law, would allow public employees in Tennessee the right to refuse participation in same-sex marriages based on the First Amendment guarantee of the “free exercise of religion.”

The Washington County resolution, initiated by Commissioner Forrest Boreing, asks the 25-member body to embrace the state’s definition of “a legal contract solemnizing the relationship of one man and one woman” to be the only recognized marital contract allowed in the state.

Article XI, Section 18 of the Tennessee Constitution states that any other judicial interpretation purporting to define marriage in any other terms “shall be void and unenforceable in Tennessee.”

Sullivan, Greene, Johnson, Morgan and McMinn counties have passed similar 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.

“I think the Supreme Court overstepped,” Van Huss said. “Marriage is between a man and a woman under God. I do commend the Washington County Commission and thank them for that.”

Tennessee Equality Project Executive Director Chris Sanders says a large group will be at the George Jaynes Justice Center in Jonesborough wearing red on the 25th to oppose the resolution.

Washington County Commissioner Katie Baker told the Johnson City Press upon learning of the resolution that she was “heartbroken” the county would consider something she considered “discriminatory and hateful.”

The Washington County resolution, along with others from Tennessee counties, may persuade legislators to push back, but overturning a U.S. Supreme Court decision is extremely difficult.

This has succeeded only 10 times in the nation’s history, with most reversals occurring when when the Supreme Court overruled itself. Constitutional amendments can be proposed either by Congress with a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate, or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the state legislatures.

Should that occur, an amendment to the Constitution still must be ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of all states, or by state ratifying conventions in three-fourths of all states, as determined by Congress.

State Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, was not immediately available for comment.

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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