Tennessee officials can now refuse to solemnize marriage for any reason

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Tennessee officials can now refuse to solemnize marriage for any reason

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Tennessee now allows public officials to refuse to solemnize a marriage for any reason, after Republican Gov. Bill Lee on Wednesday signed into law a bill that critics say could make the state more hostile toward LGBTQ+ residents.

House Bill 878, which went into effect immediately, states simply that “a person shall not be required to solemnize a marriage.” Critics say the law will allow local and state officials to discriminate against same-sex couples as well as interracial and interfaith couples.

Under Tennessee state code, wedding ceremonies must be “solemnized” by either a religious leader such as a priest or rabbi or a local or state elected official or judge. (There is an exception for Quaker weddings, which do not have an officiant, but people who receive online ordinations are not allowed to solemnize a wedding.)

In a statement to CNN, Camilla Taylor, the deputy legal director for litigation for the advocacy group Lambda Legal, called HB 878 “patently unconstitutional” and an attempt to “roll back recent progress by the LGBTQ community.”

Lee and the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Mark Pody, both Republicans, did not respond to NBC’s requests for comment, and neither has posted public statements about HB 878 on their social media pages. Yet the legislation’s quiet passage follows a pattern in the Republican-led state, which is ranked among the most unfriendly to LGBTQ+ equality by the Human Rights Campaign.

Republican officials in Tennessee have banned gender-affirming care for minors, repeatedly singled out transgender athletes, removed LGBTQ+ people from the state’s nondiscrimination laws and targeted gender identity policies and education in schools. By May last year, according to the Human Rights Campaign, Tennessee had passed 19 laws restricting LGBTQ+ rights since 2015.

Clarissa-Jan Lim

Clarissa-Jan Lim is a breaking/trending news blogger for MSNBC Digital. She was previously a senior reporter and editor at BuzzFeed News.

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