Same-sex marriage remains divisive in East TN after rulings

11:55 PM, Jun 26, 2013   |    comments
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Gay advocates celebrate the SCOTUS rulings at a pre-planned PRIDE month event

Same-sex marriage remains a divisive issue in the U.S., and many East Tennesseans felt strongly about the impact of Wednesday's Supreme Court rulings.

"Today was enormous," said Ben Byers, the Knoxville Community Chair for the Tennessee Equality Project and an openly gay man. 

"It's a game changer. It really means the fight for marriage equality can come out of the federal scene. We've got federal taken care of now, so now it's really time to refocus our efforts on the state-by-state progress."

"We knew this day would come, and we didn't really know what it would be about," said Todd Cramer, the president of East Tennessee Equality Council.

Cramer, who recently married his partner in a legal, Washington, D.C. ceremony, said there are many questions still to answer.

"We want to know what these rulings mean and where we go as a legally married couple in the United States, but not in the state of Tennessee. Where do we go to get those rights that others have in Massachusetts or New York, for instance."

Cramer said the Wednesday rulings weren't perfect, but he considers them a victory. He is also grateful for all the support for the gay community.

"It's been really cool, not just the members of the LGBT community, but also members of the straight community that have really supported us in this, fought alongside us in this, and just really believe in fairness for all people," he said.

Not everyone is celebrating the federal ruling, including many churches in East Tennessee.

"Obviously we are disappointed in the Supreme Court ruling," said Glenn Ellis, pastor at Central Baptist Church of Oak Ridge. "We believe marriage is between a man and a woman, and therefore, anything the Supreme Court is ruling contrary to that, is contrary to what we believe."

Ellis says his congregation does have questions about the issue, especially as same-sex marriage becomes more accepted in society.

"I think this is an ongoing issue, and as time goes by it will probably get worse," he said.

However, Ellis is quick to explain the difference between "disagree" and "hate."

"Even though we don't agree and we don't believe in same-sex marriage, at the same time, we love everybody. God loves everybody. It's not a matter of condemning anybody," he said.

"Our Constitution here in the state of Tennessee was amended to state that marriage is between a man and a woman," said State Representative John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge). "I've sworn an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States and the state of Tennessee's Constitution, and obviously I'll do my best to stand by that oath up until the time is such that our Constitutions are changed."

When asked what his expectations are for the Tennessee legislature next session regarding same-sex marriage, Rep. Ragan offered:

"On the informal level, I'm sure there'll be some discussions and there might be some bills that try to change things around the edges. It's hard to say how that's going to come out."

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