Judge Won’t Grant Divorces, Says Marriage Equality Makes It Impossible

The Supreme Court ruled this June that marriage equality is the law of the land — that is, that laws forbidding marriage between same-sex couples are unconstitutional and cannot be upheld. Since then, a number of magistrates have left their jobs, others have refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and one has even gone to jail for blatantly defying an order to begin issuing marriage certificates. However, a different side of the same coin turned up this week — with the news that a judge refused to grant an opposite-sex couple a divorce.

According to the Washington Post, Judge Jeffrey M. Atherton expounded upon the meaning of marriage, and the dissolution of the same, declaring that because of marriage equality, he could not grant a divorce.

The judge’s reasoning is strange but simple: the Supreme Court changed the definition of marriage, and Atherton simply can’t be sure now what exactly marriage is, who can enter into it, and how it ends.

Of course, whether or not one agrees that the Supreme Court justices “redefined marriage,”the Supreme Court ruling is not complicated. The decision was not broad, did not remove from states the power to make many of their own laws regarding marriage, and did not call for any rule changes to divorce legislation. The Justices simply ruled that any law forbidding two (specifically two) people (specifically humans) to marry based on whether or not they share a gender (this too was specific, and did not leave any gaps in which one might reasonably wonder whether they also meant couples in which one member is a child, members are siblings, or one member is incapable of or unwilling to consent) is discrimination, made illegal by the United States Constitution.

Again: the ruling simply overturned a very specific type of marriage law.

According to Ballotpedia, Atherton’s run for Chancellor of Hamilton County, Tennessee in 2014 was unopposed, and he remains in office until 2022. That’s a lot of time for refusing divorces, assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t step in to clear the marriage equality ruling up for him.

The Times Free Press reports that Judge Atherton further declared that, in the marriage equality ruling, the Supreme Court had declared states — or, specifically, Tennessee — incompetent to determine for their own constituents what “marriage” means. He suggested that rather than dissolving their marriage, the couple should try to reconcile.

Though the marriage equality decision is now months old, it is clear that the debates and resistance are simply not over.

[Photo by: Alex Wong/Getty Images]