Tennessee Judge Cites Gay Marriage Ruling in Rejecting Divorce

Hamilton County, Tenn., Chancellor Jeffrey Atherton said the U.S. Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling stripped him of the ability to preside over divorce cases. Chattanooga News video screenshot

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn., Sept. 4 (UPI) — A Tennessee judge who denied a couple’s petition to divorce said the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling prevents him from addressing divorce litigation.

Hamilton County Chancellor Jeffrey Atherton cited several reasons last week in rejecting the divorce petition from Thomas and Pamela Bumgardner, including his contention that the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling impaired the authority he and other state judges have to hear divorce and marriage litigation.

Atherton said in his ruling the Supreme Court must now clarify “when a marriage is no longer a marriage.”

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

Regina Lambert, a lawyer who represented Tennessee plaintiffs in the June Supreme Court case, Obergefell v. Hodges, accused Atherton of using the case to make a political statement.

“He is just making a statement,” she told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “I just think change is hard for people.”

Atherton declined to discuss his decision with the Times Free Press.

“I don’t want extraneous conversation,” he said. “I’ll have to stick with the words of the order.”

The judge suggested an alternate course of action for the Bumgardners.

“Hopefully,” he said, “they can reconcile.”


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