Gay marriage could be legal in Tennessee any day now.
But that depends on how a three-judge panel from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rules on oral arguments from four states — Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky — that were heard back in August.
The panel's ruling is expected some time this fall, and the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) isn't wasting any time preparing for the ruling they hope will result in an overturning of the state's gay marriage ban. The statewide equal rights organization has launched its Day One campaign to ready clergy and couples for the first day same-sex marriage is legal in the state.
Jonathan Cole of Memphis, TEP's board chairman and president, has volunteered as a Day One "sentinel," meaning he's tasked with watching the Sixth Circuit like a hawk and delivering the news of a ruling as quickly as possible.
The court can rule a number of ways — they can overturn all four states' marriage bans, or they can rule less broadly. The Tennessee case is only asking for the recognition of marriages for three couples that married in states with same-sex marriage and later moved to the state. The court could possibly rule to only honor those marriages, and, if so, more of a legal fight would be required to overturn the state's ban.
"We want to be ready on the ground when they announce," Cole said. "If the Sixth Circuit rules broadly based on the Michigan case, which put a broader question before the court than Tennessee's case, I anticipate we would still need another lawsuit in Tennessee [to secure same-sex marriage rights].
"To do that, we would need couples to go down to the county clerk's office and apply for a marriage license. If the clerks say the state government is still telling them they can't issue licenses to same-gender couples, we'll then have standing to file a lawsuit," Cole said.
If the court does overturn the ban, the Rev. Beth Lefever of Neshoba Unitarian Universalist Church will be on-hand at the clerk's office, ready to marry couples on the spot.
"We'll marry as many as we can. And then we were thinking about having a big reception in our church on the Sunday after they start issuing licenses," Lefever said. "We'll have a big celebration with cake. And I will offer to perform more liturgical weddings."
Paul Eknes-Tucker, the pastor at Holy Trinity Community Church, said his church spent the past weekend converting a couple of rooms in their Highland Avenue facility into wedding preparation rooms with mirrors and other items brides and grooms may need on their big day.
Both Eknes-Tucker and Lefever recently hosted marriage-counseling sessions for same-sex couples in their respective churches.
"We discussed adoption and custody with lawyers. And as a pastor, I talked about sex, religion, politics, friendships, and family matters. Things like, if a parent becomes ill, are you willing to have them move in with you? Or does the dog get to sleep in the bed? If one person gets an offer for a job out of town, is the other person willing to go with them?" Lefever said.
Memphian Adam Kalin said he and his partner of 15 years have discussed possibly marrying on day one in Tennessee, but he'd rather wait and have a formal ceremony with their 4- and 6-year-old children. He said they're excited to marry because his partner will finally be able to adopt their oldest child.
"If we were married, he would be able to adopt as a step-parent," Kalin said. "Since our oldest was adopted in Mississippi, Tennessee calls it a step-parent adoption, and they said he can't be a step-parent because we aren't legally married."