It’s no secret that many on the right don’t believe that gay couples should be able to marry, but one Tennessee judge has managed to surpass even the insanity of the bigoted Kentucky clerk who was recently jailed for her refusal to follow the law and allow gay couples to marry. Last week, Hamilton County Chancellor Jeffrey Atherton denied a divorce petition to a straight couple — and cited gay marriage as the reason.
According to Atherton, the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges had redefined marriage. Since the definition of marriage was, in his opinion, changed, the judge said that he could not in good conscience allow a straight couple to divorce because the court had not ruled on what defines the end of a marriage.
“The Tennessee Court of Appeals has noted that Obergefell v. Hodges, affected what is, and must be recognized as, a lawful marriage in the State of Tennessee. This leaves a mere trial level Tennessee state court judge in a bit of a quandary,” he said, furious that the ruling had overturned the state’s Marriage Protection Amendment, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. “With the U.S. Supreme Court having defined what must be recognized as a marriage, it would appear that Tennessee’s judiciary must now await the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court as to what is not a marriage, or better stated, when a marriage is no longer a marriage.”
Atherton contends (incorrectly) that “the intent and (more importantly) the effect of the Supreme Court ruling is to preempt state courts from addressing marriage/divorce litigation altogether,” and that Justice Antonin Scalia was correct in his hateful dissent that the “patronizing” and “condescending” majority decision is “a naked claim to legislative — indeed, super-legislative — power.”
“The conclusion reached by this Court is that Tennesseans have been deemed by the U.S. Supreme Court to be incompetent to define and address such keystone/central institutions such as marriage, and, thereby, at minimum, contested divorces,” he continued. “According to Justice Scalia, the majority opinion in Obergefell represents ‘social transformation without representation.’”
If you were wondering whether Atherton would begin hurling slurs in his convoluted and rather moronic refusal to grant a divorce to a straight couple, you either will or won’t be disappointed:
“Although this Court has some vague familiarity with the government theories of democracy, republicanism, socialism, communism, fascism, theocracy, and even despotism, implementation of this apparently new ‘super-federal-judicial’ form of benign and benevolent government, termed ‘krytocracy’ by some and ‘judi-idiocracy’ by others, with its iron fist and limp wrist, represents quite a challenge for a state level trial court.”
But there’s good news for the unhappy couple, according to the judge: Their marriage, which the couple wishes to end because of “irreconcilable differences” and ” inappropriate marital conduct,” is not “irretrievably broken” — even if they say it is.
Atherton refused to speak on the issue when asked by the Times Free Press on Wednesday . “I don’t want extraneous conversation,” he said. “I’ll have to stick with the words of the order.” However, he wishes the couple well. “Hopefully,” he said, “they can reconcile.”
The judge’s refusal to allow the dissolution of a marriage seems hinged not on the language of the Supreme Court’s decision, which did not in any way address divorce law or define marriage in any way (it simply stated what sort of marriage can not be denied), but instead on personal politics. It’s fine for a judge to have his own personal beliefs on any issue — but there is no universe in which those beliefs should be allowed to supersede the law.
Read the documents for yourself here:
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.