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UPDATE: Anti-marriage equality resolution fails in close vote

Nathan Baker • Updated Feb 23, 2016 at 8:41 AM

Washington County Commissioner Forrest Boreing attributed the early Tuesday morning failure of a resolution against same-sex marriage to the ETSU factor, which he said influenced the vote.

“It was split by (East Tennessee State University),” Boreing said after the 7-hour meeting. “There are so many people from that school that showed up tonight. Most of the colleges do have more liberal attitudes, but that makes for good discussions.”

The 12-11 vote to approve the resolution — failed because supporters needed 13 to capture a majority of the 25-seat County Commission — came nearly 6.5 hours into the meeting, after a nearly hour-long discussion by commissioners on a measure to drop the resolution from the agenda and more than three hours of public comments.

Hundreds packed five courtrooms of the George Jaynes Justice Center and spilled out into upstairs and downstairs foyers, watching the 57 public speakers and the Commission’s debate on projection televisions specially wired for the occasion.

Holding a worn Bible in his outstretched hands, Jonesborough Baptist Church Pastor Randy Robbins quoted scripture that aroused a reaction from those who turned out to oppose the resolution.

“’Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness and covetousness,’” Robbins said, skipping around the first chapter of Romans. ... “’Without understanding, without natural affection’ — it’s not natural — ’Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.’”

Lori Starnes, who spoke an hour-and-a-half later, said she was hurt by comments like those made by Robbins.

“I sat out in the hallway waiting for my time to speak across from ministers who told me I should be dead,” Starnes, a gay woman, said. “I was told in the hallway that I was going to burn in hell. It’s amazing to me that they would let you preach that kind of hatred and sow that kind of anger.”

Boreing’s resolution, which he requested in a Jan. 7 Public Safety Committee meeting, voiced opposition to the landmark 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges extending a right to marry to same-sex couples, and asked state legislators to do everything within their powers to nullify the high court’s ruling and enforce the state constitution’s definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman.

Some commissioners questioned what more legislators could do to overturn the court’s decision, saying a bill earlier this month seeking to nullify the decision failed in subcommittee 4-1. The General Assembly successfully approved a resolution earlier this month calling for a constitutional convention to place fiscal and power restraints on the federal government and to establish Congressional term limits.

Early in the meeting, a challenge to the resolution launched by Commissioner Joe Wise narrowly failed knocking the measure from the meeting’s agenda on the basis that it was not relevant to county business.

Wise invoked Rule 8(e) of the Commission’s rules and procedures, which states in part, “The agenda and resolutions of the Board of County Commissioners is not an appropriate forum to make political statements regarding federal, state and other jurisdictions' actions that do not directly affect county government.”

“I recognize this issue is important to the country and the state, but we are not that body,” Wise said at the start of the meeting. “If we choose to take this up, I ask where will it end? Today, if we contradict the Supreme Court, will we next take on Roe v. Wade, Insure Tennessee, Citizens United or a wall between the U.S. and Mexico? They all ignite passions, and are being used for scoring political points and winning elections, none of which makes us effective stewards of county government.”

The 23 present commissioners seemed poised to drop the resolution from the agenda with the 13 votes needed for a majority, but at the last minute, Commissioner Robbie McGuire asked to change his vote from "yes" to "no," putting the vote tally at 12-11 without a majority.

After the meeting, McGuire said his nerves got the best of him, and he accidentally voted in error.

“It wasn’t planned that way,” he said. “With all the people and the pressure, I just got a little wound up.”

After the failure of the resolution Boreing said the people of Washington County had spoken, saying he would not attempt to re-introduce a similar measure.

The failure of the resolution makes Washington County the only division so far in upper Northeast Tennessee to not pass a resolution against same-sex marriage when one comes before the board.

Carter, Johnson, Sullivan, Greene and Hawkins have all passed similar resolutions condemning the practice. Unicoi County commissioners have requested a resolution on the topic, but have not yet considered one for a vote.

How they voted:

The vote to approve the resolution in opposition to same-sex marriage failed 12-11. Here’s how the commissioners voted.

Yes

Greg Matherly
Rick Storey
Sam Humphreys
Robbie McGuire
Mitch Meredith
Robbie Tester
Bryan Davenport
Mike Ford
Mark Larkey
Steve Light
Danny Edens
Forrest Boreing

No

Lynn Hodge
George E. "Skip" Oldham
Larry England
Joe Wise
Katie Baker
Lee Chase
David Tomita
Gary McAllister
Paul Stanton
Joe Grandy
Tom Kreiger

Previously reported:

BREAKING: A Washington County Commission resolution asking the state to nullify the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision failed early Tuesday morning more than six hours after the meeting began.

The ballot fell one vote short of the necessary 13 votes needed to pass, as 12 commissioners voted in favor of the resolution while 11 voted against it.

Keep visiting JohnsonCityPress.com for more.

———

Debate on a Washington County resolution asking state legislators to nullify a June Supreme Court decision went late into the night Monday, after an early challenge to its relevancy failed to bump it from the agenda.

Speaker after speaker, more than 50 in all, took his or her allotted three minutes to advocate for or against the resolution before five packed courtrooms, setting the stage for three hours of public comments before the County Commission got to the business of debating the resolution for themselves, or to any other business on the 600-page agenda.

Hoping to bypass the lengthy discussion, Commissioner Joe Wise motioned to drop the resolution from the night's agenda under Rule 8(E) of the body's rules of order, which states in part, "The agenda and resolutions of the Board of County Commissioners is not an appropriate forum to make political statements regarding federal, state and other jurisdictions' actions that do not directly affect county government."

"I recognize this issue is important to the country and the state, but we are not that body," Wise said at the start of the meeting. "If we choose to take this up, I ask where will it end? Today, if we contradict the Supreme Court, will we next take on Roe v. Wade, Insure Tennessee, Citizens United or a wall between the U.S. and Mexico? They all ignite passions, and are being used for scoring political points and winning elections, none of which makes us effective stewards of county government."

The 23 present commissioners seemed poised to drop the resolution from the agenda with the 13 votes needed for a majority, but at the last minute, Commissioner Robbie McGuire asked to change his vote from "yes" to "no," putting the vote tally at 12-11 to drop the item and ensuring its failure.

As the commissioners debated the rule challenge, many espoused their personal beliefs.

"The government derives its power from the consent of governed, so our ultimate authority derives from people," Commissioner Robbie Tester said before noting that the commission voted last year to approve a resolution opining on federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations. "Many people are interested in having this debate now, it's the way our system is designed to work. Political pressure should come from the bottom up."

Commissioner Forrest Boreing, who asked for the resolution last month in the commission's Public Safety Committee, used his faith in his reasoning.

"As I have said before, and as many have heard me say, I am Christian," he said. "I stand on that word of God, the holy Bible, which is true and infallible, and I was taught by a gentleman that raised me to be as truthful and honest in everything as I could."

By 9:45 p.m., more than 40 speakers had taken the podium, some wearing read to signify their opposition and others holding Bibles as artifacts of their support.

The commission had not yet voted on the resolution at press time. Read the complete story, including the outcome of the meeting at www.johnsoncitypress.com.

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