Tennessee same-sex couples, local governments prepare for Supreme Court ruling

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A ruling on same-sex marriage is expected in a matter of days, and couples, along with local governments, have been making plans for how to handle it. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a landmark challenge to state bans on gay marriage.

Related story: Couples, courthouses, opponents nationwide readying for Supreme Court gay marriage ruling

Plaintiffs in the case include two women, Sophy Jesty and Val Tanco, who married in New York before moving to Knoxville.

County clerks in East Tennessee WATE 6 On Your Side spoke with said they don’t have a plan quite yet. They’re waiting for a ruling to come out from the Supreme Court and will then go from there.

Many same-sex couples across the country are anxiously awaiting a ruling from the high court. Erin and Gwen Schablik from Rockford have been closely watching the case and made the trip to Washington, D.C. in April for the oral arguments.

Extended coverage: Same-Sex Marriage 

“It’ll mean that I’m not a second class citizen in the state, that my wife isn’t a second class citizen in the state,” said Gwen Schablik, of Rockford.

Erin and Gwen Schablik
Erin and Gwen Schablik

Supreme Court justices will be deciding whether states have to recognize out of state same-sex marriages and whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.

Their decision is expected any day, but the Family Action Council of Tennessee sees marriage as between a man and a woman. Their president, David Fowler, issued a statement:

“The real issue is the Supreme Court will decide is whether states can continue to define marriage as man and one woman or whether it will usurp the historical and constitutional powers of states to determine their own domestic policies regarding marriage and family. If the Court rules against the laws of Tennessee, its rationale will be used to mandate that states recognize as a marriage whatever combinations of relationships that people may want to have. This is not just about changing the meaning of marriage, but about whether marriage will really mean anything anymore.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex couples, states like Tennessee will have to make some changes to their marriage license policies. So far, those changes seem to be unclear.

“It’s one of those things where we have to wait until the Supreme Court decides what they’re going to do and once they make their decision, then we’ll have that discussion. But for right now, frankly, we just don’t know,” said Foster Arnett, Knox County clerk.

Knox County Clerk Foster Arnett
Knox County Clerk Foster Arnett

Arnett says if the ban on same-sex marriage were to be overturned, his six offices would be prepared for potentially large crowds. Arnett also said the county will abide by however the high court rules.

“We work under the flag of the state and the federal government and whatever they decide to do, then that’s what we’ll do,” said Arnett.

Schablik says there’s still more work to do, even if the Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage.

“Marriage equality is definitely a great step in the right direction, but we still have to work on a lot of other protections that need to be put in place,” said Schablik.

Other organizations are preparing for the same-sex marriage decision, including the Tennessee Equality Project. They’ve listed out steps if the justices overturn the ban on same-sex marriage.

Blount County Clerk Roy Crawford said he’s relying on the attorney general’s office and the state for guidance. So far he hasn’t had any conversations with other clerks about the potential ruling.

Here’s an interactive map illustrating states in the U.S. where gay marriage is legal. Click on a state to learn more about it:


DIGITAL_Gay Marriage Legend

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