ACLU of Tennessee Files Appeal Over Passage of Anti-Marriage Amendment

Affiliate: ACLU of Tennessee
February 23, 2006 12:00 am

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NASHVILLE – The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee today announced an appeal to the State Supreme Court after Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle ruled to allow an anti-marriage amendment to go forward.

In ACLU v. Darnell, filed on April 21, 2005, the ACLU of Tennessee challenged a proposed amendment to the Tennessee Constitution that would ban same-sex couples from marrying. The lawsuit charged that the state failed to meet notification requirements as outlined in the state Constitution by failing to publish the text of the amendment six months prior to the General Assembly election.

“The framers of the Tennessee Constitution put specific safeguards in place to guarantee that the voters are given ample opportunity to engage in public debate and discussion before amending the Constitution,” said ACLU of Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg. “Constitutional requirements are not technicalities. They were put in place because amending the Constitution is a very serious decision. Those requirements should be followed exactly as the founders required – especially when the amendment in question would deny couples much needed protections for their families.”

“As the court acknowledged today,” Weinberg added, “the constitutional requirements were not followed here. The ACLU of Tennessee has already filed a notice of appeal and we hope the Tennessee Supreme Court will expedite the appeal.”

In its ruling, the court found that the General Assembly failed to follow the constitutional notification requirement by neglecting to publish the amendment six months prior to government action. However, the court concluded that incidental media coverage prior to the amendment’s adoption “cured the General Assembly’s default in publication.”

The ACLU of Tennessee has contended that the state’s failure to comply with the Constitution invalidates the proposed amendment. Article XI, Section 3 of the Tennessee Constitution sets forth rules for amending the Constitution. Before an amendment can be placed on the ballot for a general election, it must first be agreed upon by a majority of both the Senate and House of Representatives. Then the text of the amendment must be published in Tennessee newspapers at least six months before the next election of the General Assembly. When the next General Assembly convenes, a second vote is taken, and the amendment must be approved by two-thirds of the members of both the Senate and House. The amendment is put to a vote only if it meets all of these requirements.

According to the complaint filed by the ACLU, the proposed amendment received the necessary support to pass the first vote in the House on May 6, 2004 and in the Senate on May 19, 2004. However, the Secretary of State failed to publish the text of the amendment until June 20, 2004 – only four months and 12 days prior to the General Assembly elections that took place on November 2, 2004.

“Requirements in the state Constitution represent the ultimate will of the people, and our lawmakers should be held accountable to the people by properly satisfying those requirements,” said ACLU of Tennessee staff attorney Melody Fowler-Green. “This is especially important when our lawmakers are proposing to amend our foundational law. It isn’t just these plaintiffs who are harmed by the General Assembly’s failure to follow the rules – the integrity of the system is shaken.”

ACLU of Tennessee, et al. v. Darnell, et al. was filed in the Chancery Court for Davidson County, Tennessee. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of ACLU members; the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), a statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lobbying organization; State Representatives Larry Turner, Beverly Robison Marrero and Tommie Brown; as well as a number of private citizens.

Attorneys in the case are Fowler-Green of the ACLU of Tennessee and and ACLU cooperating attorneys Abby Rubenfeld of Rubenfeld Law Office and Anne Martin of Bone McAllester Norton PLLC.

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