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Opinion: Should Tennessee enact its Natural Marriage Defense Act?

Nick Lingerfelt and Isaac O. Weston

Tennessee state Sen. Mark Pody (R—Lebanon) and Tennessee Rep. Jerry Sexton (R—Bean Station) have introduced the “Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act†in the state legislature, which would nullify the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges and allow the state to not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This bill was met with immediate criticism as a step backward. Columnists Nick Lingerfelt and Isaac O. Weston shared their thoughts on the issue.

Nick Lingerfelt: “Natural marriageâ€: Here we go again

This “Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act,†introduced by Sen. Mark Pody (R—Lebanon) and Rep. Jerry Sexton (R—Bean Station) that would nullify the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that game same-sex couples the right to marry, is indefensible.

I do not understand why this is still an issue. I do not understand why the LGBTQ community has to keep fighting for their right to exist. I do not understand why this is still a big deal for some people. I do not understand why Republicans think gay, bisexual and transgender people will stop existing if they keep trying to undo progress that has been made. Quite literally, we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it. We’re not dead, and we’re not going anywhere, so quit legislating other people’s lives when it cannot possibly affect you.

When the bill was reviewed the last legislative session (because these people introduced it last session too and cannot seem to just move on and do other things with their precious legislative power and time), it was estimated the state of Tennessee would lose $9 billion from the federal government, mainly funding for TennCare and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. This is not an issue conservatives can defend anymore without resorting to their religion or just plain ol’ hatred.

Here’s some piping hot tea for you: the people who introduce these laws probably think they do not know a gender or sexual minority at all. These kinds of viewpoints are born out of ignorance because people think LGBTQ people are some type of deviants or that they have some type of issue that makes them one of the many letters in the acronym LGBTQ. That could not possibly be farther from the truth. If it were a choice, like some conservative and religious people think it is, then there would not be as many LGBTQ people as there are today. People would quite simply just choose not to be gay. Why would anyone want to put up with hearing about how their way of being is “morally wrong†if they could simply choose to be attracted to a member of the opposite sex? That’s the question that’s taken me the longest to figure out. I think the other side does not have an answer to this question either, but they still choose to stand by it nonetheless.

In all likelihood, this will not pass. If it did, it would immediately be brought up to a court challenge, and the likelihood of it making it to the Supreme Court, which has already decided this issue, is very small, in my opinion. Rep. Sexton, one of the people who introduced this bill, said he wanted to bring this bull up “for discussion.†What would you like to discuss, sir? How you don’t like the idea of people being happy? Of finding love? Of wanting to express that love to each other and the world? You can outlaw same-sex marriage, but you will never be able to stop people from being who they are.

When North Carolina introduced their transgender bathroom bill that would prohibit people from using the bathroom they felt most comfortable using back in 2017, the NBA pulled the All-Star Game from being able to be hosted in the state. We, as a state, will continue to be looked over by big corporations and people who could inject a resurgence into our state’s economy if we don’t decide these things just aren’t worth fighting about. People have fled this state for the safety of the coastal liberal havens because of our politics. Not just minorities of all shapes and sizes, other people who are allies or who just want to live in a more amiable environment have left, too. If we stop fighting about issues like this, then maybe we can start to make a better place for all of us to live in.

Isaac O. Weston: NMDA is OK but does not fix family issues

Two Tennessee Republican state Senators have reintroduced a bill to the state Senate and the state House of Representatives that would ban same-sex marriage in Tennessee.

The bill, which was originally presented in 2016, is called the “Natural Marriage Defense Act (NMDA)†and, like it sounds, claims the union of marriage is between man and woman. The bill failed in 2016 when officials deemed that passing it would withhold $9 billion of federal funding from Tennessee.

The June 26, 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision brought marriage equality to all 50 states, but the case raised the questions of constitutionality on both sides. Isn’t it unconstitutional to prohibit LGBTQ people from receiving the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts? Since individual states issue marriage licenses, isn’t it unconstitutional for the federal government to make laws about it? This latter question is the main argument that spurred Tennessee lawmakers to revive the NMDA.

Sexuality, especially regarding anything within the realm of LGBTQ, has morphed into a very sensitive and emotional issue. It is one of the several sore spots in our culture that can cause people to think less rationally and take things more personally. This topic puts me in a tough position and it certainly doesn’t help being a Christian, conservative, straight white man.

My initial reaction when I first heard what Tennessee legislators were pushing for was one of uncertainty and confusion about even resurrecting this issue. I thought it was not a good idea to try to reverse a nearly four-year-old decision that already carries such heavy implications and has only yielded more division among Americans. The U.S. Constitution grants LGBTQ people the same freedom to live autonomously as it does me to practice Christianity. Although I was apprehensive, and still kind of am, I have understood more of the reasoning behind opening it back up for discussion. The bill’s intent is not to deprive gay people of marital freedoms, which I originally thought it was. 

According to Gallup, 4.5 percent of the American population identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The highest percentage is found in the Millennial generation with 8.2 percent being LGBT, but the average is reduced because only 3.5 percent of Generation X, 2.4 percent of the Baby Boomer generation and 1.4 percent of the Traditionalist generation, also known as the Silent Generation, identify as LGBTQ. More than half the population is evangelical Christian in Tennessee, as reported by NBC News, with 3.5 percent of the population identifying as LGBTQ, according to the Movement Advancement Project, an organization that analyzes policies and issues. The intent is for the Tennessee state government to represent its people, and the two Tennessee Republicans are just acting on behalf of their constituents.

I’m not against NMDA, but I am skeptical if it were to be passed that lawmakers would continue working on restoring the American family. This is what lawmakers everywhere need to understand: Same-sex marriage should not be viewed as the main threat to the traditional and “natural†family dynamic. Because it’s not. Divorce runs rampant in America, with 40-50 percent of married couples ending their marriages and those who have remarried marriages are facing divorce rates in the mid-70s. Single-parent households plague low-income sections of cities and, according to The Washington Post, one-third of people living below the poverty line are children or parents of single-parent households. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one-third of all children in America are raised in single-parent homes. My beliefs do not correspond with non-straight relationships, but we are foolish if we think a same-sex marriage ban is the ultimate solution. If our country’s lawmakers are truly concerned with the state of the American family and the younger generations, there must be a response to divorce and single-parent households next.

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