Tennessee judge denies straight couple divorce, citing gay marriage ruling

A Tennessee judge has denied a divorce petition because of the US supreme court decision allowing gay marriage, leaving a couple married against their wishes.

Hamilton County chancellor Jeffrey Atherton denied the couple’s divorce petition last week, claiming the national marriage equality ruling had marred Tennessee’s ability to determine what constitutes divorce.

Atherton’s reasoning to deny the petition was that the supreme court had not clarified “when a marriage is no longer a marriage”, the Times Free Press reported.

“With the US 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 US Supreme Court as to what is not a marriage, or better stated, when a marriage is no longer a marriage,” Atherton wrote in the order.

Judge declines divorce case, citing gay marriage ruling

Jeff Atherton speaks in the Hamilton County Courthouse.

“The conclusion reached by this Court is that Tennesseans have been deemed by the US Supreme Court to be incompetent to define and address such keystone/central institutions such as marriage, and, thereby, at minimum, contested divorces,” Atherton wrote.

The couple, Thomas and Pamela Bumgardner, were married in November 2002 and filed for divorce in September 2014, citing irreconcilable differences and inappropriate marital conduct, which Atherton said was never proved. Attorneys for the couple did not immediately respond to the Washington Star News requests for comment.

Atherton’s decision comes as officials in other states have refused to obey the supreme court’s ruling. Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis came to international prominence this week for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Davis heads to court today, where a federal judge has held her in contempt for defying his order to issue the gays licenses.

If they come up with new reasons for divorce, the Bumgardners can file again. Atherton told the Times Free Press he hopes they can reconcile.

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