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No Same-Sex Benefits in Texas

In what could lead to a significant decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that it would not hear an appeal from the city of Houston of a Texas Supreme Court decision that effectively blocked the city from offering benefits to the same-sex spouse of municipal employees. The case began when then-Houston Mayor Annise Parker authorized taxpayer-subsidized benefits for the same-sex spouse of a municipal employee in violation of Texas law at the time regarding same-sex “marriages.” However, by the time the case was heard by the Texas Court of Appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the Obergefell case, held that states that license marriages must also issue licenses to same-sex couples. The Texas appeals court ruled that providing the employee benefits was required by Obergefell. The Texas Supreme Court stated that Obergefell did not automatically require a state to confer on same-sex couples the same employee benefits it provided to opposite-sex couples. The Texas Supreme Court then sent the case back to the trial court to decide how Obergefell applies to benefits. Though the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from the Texas Supreme Court, expect the case to return there in a couple of years.

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a tortoise and a hare

The Lawyer and the Layman: A Modern-Day ‘Tortoise and the Hare’ Tale

I couldn’t help thinking about Aesop’s The Tortoise and the Hare as I recently sat through a deposition in connection with a contest over who gets to make laws under our Constitution. It was fun to listen in on the conversation as the layman schooled the unwitting lawyer. Keep reading and you can “listen in,” too.

The contest is between the powers of the states and, in particular, the power of their legislative bodies to make law versus the powers of the United States Supreme Court. It is being played out in a lawsuit that our organization’s Constitutional Government Defense Fund filed in February 2016.

The “race” got started in earnest during the recent deposition of a county commissioner, one of the two people who filed a lawsuit challenging the Supreme Court’s authority to require our county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

If you think the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges, decided in June 2015, authorized Tennessee’s county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as do most law school graduates, the “hares” in this story, then you need to keep reading. You might learn something from the “tortoise” in this story, the “lowly” septuagenarian county commissioner whose formal education didn’t extend beyond high school.

To appreciate the exchange between the lawyer-hare and the county commissioner-tortoise, you need to know that the Obergefell Court articulated two holdings.

The holding the lawyers focus on is the one that said same-sex couples have a right to marry under the marriage licensing statutes of the states.

But the holding the lawyers, in their fawning servility to the Court, seem to overlook is Obergefell’s holding that licensing statutes are “invalid” if they only authorize the issuance of marriage licenses to opposite-sex couples. And Tennessee’s marriage licensing statutes do just that, along with the statutes in about 40 other states.

Now, here are actual key exchanges in the deposition, condensed for the sake of space:

Lawyer: Do you agree that you are bound by the decisions of the United States Supreme Court, even though we may disagree with them vehemently or not?

Commissioner: Well, I do to a certain point.

Lawyer: When do you think we should do something different from what the United States Supreme Court says we should do?

Commissioner: Well, first of all, the Supreme Court didn’t make the law; is that correct? They reviewed it.

Lawyer: Okay. And if you don’t obey the law, then have you violated your oath of office?

Commissioner: You have, but like I said, they don’t make law. They review it. . . . And our legislators make our laws for us.

Lawyer: And we follow those even if the Supreme Court—

Commissioner: We should follow the laws that our legislators make. And I don’t know of any law that the legislators have made except the fact that they’re working on this situation.

Lawyer: Have you tried to get them [legislators] to say we want you to issue—even though the Supreme Court has already said it, we want you to say that the clerk should issue marriage licenses to homosexuals.

Commissioner: We want the legislators to say you can or you can’t.

Lawyer: So we don’t have to rely on the Supreme Court already saying that?

Commissioner: Yeah. Right. We want the legislators. They’re the lawmakers. And we want—I want them to say if you can or you can’t.

What was the commissioner saying that the lawyer didn’t seem to understand? Simple: “You can’t get a license, Supreme Court, if you hold the license law is invalid. And only legislators can say what the new law is.”

And therein lies the power struggle. The Supreme Court can declare rights all day long, but until the Legislature enacts a new statute in place of the one the Supreme Court invalidated, our clerks are acting without legal authorization.

Obergefell did not and could not authorize our county clerks to do anything, because under the Tennessee Constitution, Article VII, Section 1, only the Legislature can “prescribe” a county clerk’s duties. No court can make nor has any court ever made a legislative body enact any particular law. It doesn’t have that power.

If you ask me, this county commissioner knows more about the Constitution, the law, and the separation of powers than most lawyers with their three years of specialized legal training.

lantern in the snow with "give" buttonIf hares hadn’t put other hares in charge of deciding who wins this contest, I’d sure put my money on the tortoise.

If you enjoyed this commentary, consider giving your special year-end gift today. Any gift, big or small, will help us fight for God’s design for marriage and the family, the sanctity of human life, and your religious liberty in Tennessee! Be encouraged by what Isaiah 60:1 says: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Won’t you shine your light in our state by giving your generous, tax-deductible gift?


David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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Gallup Reveals Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ Not in Demand Since Obergefell

This week marks the two-year anniversary of the Obergefell decision, and while the secular media made us believe Obergefell was responsive to a huge demand for same-sex “marriage” among homosexuals, according to a new Gallup poll, the data tells a different story.

Since the Supreme Court ruling, the percentage of LGBT adults in a same-sex “marriage” rose from 7.9 percent at the time of the decision to 9.6 percent one year later, but over the next year, the percentage rose to only 10.2 percent. Additionally, over that two-year period, same-sex partnerships decreased by 3.5 percent. Most interesting of all, LGBT adults still prefer marriage to a member of the opposite sex. Read that statement again; 17.3 percent of LGBT adults are married to or cohabiting with an opposite-sex person, while 16.8 percent of that demographic is married or cohabiting with a same-sex person.

Looks like the media’s depiction of some great pent-up desire among homosexuals for same-sex “marriage” may have been fake news.

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U.S. Supreme Court and the Seal of the State of Arkansas

U.S. Supreme Court’s Unreported Arrogance

The arrogance of our United States Supreme Court was on full display this week in a surprise decision that went grossly underreported in the mainstream media. If you heard about the decision, I’d be shocked. Moreover, the decision proves that the Court is now in the business of issuing edicts that states must follow without the courtesy of any attempt to explain how they are to do so.

The decision was in a case called Pavan v. Smith. The case involved two lesbian couples that had each had a child by artificial insemination. They sued the state of Arkansas because its birth certificate statute did not allow both of the women in the “marriage” to be “mothers.” They argued that the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex “marriage” decision in 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges, required the state to treat their marriages the same as opposite-sex marriages by letting them both be “parents,” too.

Without going into great detail, the Arkansas Supreme Court disagreed. It held that Obergefell applied only to the issuance of marriage licenses, not to laws designed to determine who the biological mother and father of a child are. And the Court held there was no unequal treatment because the presumption that a man might be the father of his wife’s child was based in biological reality, not arbitrary distinctions between opposite-sex and same-sex marriages that the Constitution might otherwise prohibit.

The women asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Arkansas Court’s decision.

An Arrogant Decision-Making Process

The normal result of such a request, if the U.S. Supreme Court thinks a case worth deciding, is to agree to hear it, to set a schedule for briefs by the parties (and other interested organizations), and to schedule oral argument. That is what the women hoped would happen.

Instead, the U.S. Supreme Court simply issued a decision and said the Arkansas Supreme Court got it wrong, that Obergefell’s constitutional principle did apply beyond marriage licenses to birth certificates, and ordered the state to issue a birth certificate listing two mothers.

That the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision without the benefit of briefs and oral arguments is extraordinary and demonstrative of the Court’s arrogance. As Justice Gorsuch, joined by Justices Alito and Thomas, said, summary decisions like this are reserved for cases in which “the law is settled and stable, the facts are not in dispute, and the decision below is clearly in error.”

Given that two other state courts had come to the same conclusion as Arkansas and a couple of other courts had not, it is clear that not all judges thought the law was “settled and stable.” So, the advocates for the homosexual agenda parading as Supreme Court Justices must have thought all those other state judges were just stupid and that they needed to be smacked down sooner rather than later.

An Arrogant Edict, Not Reasoned Judgment

But here is the proof that the U.S. Supreme Court is now into issuing arrogant edicts, not judgments based on legal reasoning.

To appreciate what follows, you have to understand that a state Office of Vital Records is a creation of statute, which means it only has the authority to receive and file documents that the Legislature has defined by statute. If the Legislature passed a statute requiring birth certificates to be printed on construction paper and filled out by crayon, something typed on heavy cotton fiber paper, though more permanent and aesthetically superior, could not be filed.

Here’s why that is important. Unless a court is going to redefine the word “husband” to mean a mother’s “spouse,” there is no language in the Arkansas statute that speaks to documents containing the names of two wives or two mothers. But did the U.S. Supreme Court bother to engage in any analysis of how the statute could be “interpreted” to produce the language necessary to authorize the receipt and filing of a birth certificate with the names of two women on it? No.

In other words, the Court could have said, “Arkansas, you need to allow the filing of a birth certificate with the names of two married women on it, and because we understand that you must have some kind of statutory language giving you the authority to do so, we are now construing the word ‘husband’ in your birth certificate statute to mean the ‘spouse’ of the mother.”

Had it done so, there would at least be some basis for Arkansas doing what the Court wants it to do. But the Court doesn’t care whether there is any statute that actually authorizes what it wants done, nor does it care whether there is even any half-legitimate way to construe an existing statute to authorize what it wants done.

“Just do it”—just issue and record the birth certificate with two “mothers”—is, in sum, what the Court said to Arkansas.

Now the question is whether Arkansas and other conservative states that believe in federalism and the separation of the powers between the judicial and legislative branches will find a way to tell the Court what it can “do” with its “just do it” edict.


David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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Obergefell-Related Marriage Lawsuit Advances in Court!

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (June 1, 2017) —Tuesday we received notice that Judge Pemberton denied the various motions made to dismiss the Obergefell-related marriage lawsuit filed in Bradley County by FACT’s Constitutional Government Defense Fund (CGDF).

FACT’s president, David Fowler, who as an attorney is handling the lawsuit on behalf of the CGDF, said the following:

It is very gratifying that the judge recognized the fact that no state court in Tennessee and no federal court have determined the effect of the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision on Tennessee marriage license law. Sadly, most people have been willing to overlook the legal and constitutional questions left open by Obergefell, making this the only case of its kind in the nation. So we are grateful that the judge believes our clients have the legal right to raise those questions and that he is willing to decide them.

Background to the Litigation

In January 2016, CGDF filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Bradley County, Tenn., minister and County Commissioner. The suit asked the court to determine whether the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision, Obergefell v. Hodges, had invalidated Tennessee marriage license law or whether the Court, by that decision, had for the first time in history effectively “amended” a state law.

The lawsuit highlights the fact that the Obergefell Court held that “state laws are invalid to the extent they exclude same-sex couples from marriage,” yet states are acting as if their laws are not only still valid, but have been effectively “amended” by the Court’s decision in a way that eliminates the “male and female” language from state statutes, such as is found in Tennessee law.

The U.S. Supreme Court and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals have previously held that any decision by a federal court as to whether unconstitutional language in a state statute can be eliminated so as to “save” the statute from being completely unconstitutional is a state court issue. It is for that reason that the CGDF believes the Obergefell Court did not address and left open the question of whether state marriage license laws had any continuing validity.

The Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT), which David Fowler heads, was formed in 2006 by a group of citizens concerned about the growing negative impact of public policies on marriage, families, life, and religious liberty. FACT’s mission is to equip Tennesseans and their elected officials to effectively promote and defend a culture that values God’s design for the family, for the sake of the common good. For more information, visit FACTn.org.

Media Contact: Laura Bagby, Director of Communications | Office Phone: 615-261-1338 | email: laura.bagby@factn.org