State Court Judge Upholds Tennessee Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

A state judge in Tennessee delivered the first loss for marriage equality advocates in over a year, ruling last week that Tennessee’s ban on same-sex marriage prevented a same-sex couple legally married elsewhere from divorcing in Tennessee.

The ruling came in the case of Frederick Michael Borman and Larry Kevin Pyles-Borman, a couple who were residents of Tennessee but legally married in Iowa in 2010. According to Iowa law, individuals do not need to be residents of the state in order to be legally married there. But, to be granted a divorce, Iowa law does require at least one of the individuals to have residency in the state.

When the Bormans tried to divorce, they found themselves in legal limbo because neither were residents of Iowa. That state couldn’t grant them a divorce, and Tennessee’s ban on same-sex marriage meant their home state did not even recognize their marriage in order to grant a divorce. The couple sued and challenged the Tennessee ban, arguing the Constitution required Tennessee to recognize their marriage so as to grant their request for a divorce.

Circuit Court Judge Russell E. Simmons disagreed. “Tennessee’s laws further provide that if another state allows persons to marriage who are prohibited from marriage in Tennessee, then that marriage is void and unenforceable in Tennessee,” Simmons wrote. According to Simmons, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Windsor did not control the outcome of the case here since the decision did not definitively rule unconstitutional state definitions of marriage that limit a union to one man and one woman.

The decision is limited to those cases in the state that involve a divorce where the marriage itself is not recognized, and is not likely to make an impact on the federal cases challenging state-level same-sex marriage bans, including Tennessee’s. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is currently considering a legal challenge to the portion of the Tennessee ban that does not recognize already-existing marriages from other states.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact

Follow Jessica Mason Pieklo on twitter: @hegemommy

  • Jennifer Jonsson

    That’s interesting. So if a very young couple, say sixteen years old, were married in a state where that’s legal, and they moved to Tennessee where the legal age is eighteen, does this mean they aren’t married anymore?

    • fiona64

      Don’t you go bringing reality into this. ;-)

    • Shan

      Only if they’re gay!

    • lady_black

      I believe the answer lies is the concept of a voidable marriage. States don’t normally unilaterally void marriages that are valid at their inception. The next step for this couple is to go to federal court to force TN to recognize their marriage so they can divorce, or one of them establishes residence in a state that will recognize the marriage, and files for divorce in that state.


    Notice how this article starts with “the first loss in over a year”. But, left out is all of the losses gay ‘marriage’ opponents had prior to “Windsor”.

    “Windsor” didn’t state that defining marriage as a man and a woman is unconstitutional. It simply states that the STATES have the right to define marriage. The feds cannot state that marriage is only between a man and a woman (as far as benefits go), if a particular state (i.e. New York) has legalized gay ‘marriage’. Plus, the portion of DOMA, where one state doesn’t have to recognize a gay couple’s marriage license from another state, still stands.

    In fact, Judge Simmons declared that the Supreme Court has already ruled, via “Baker v. Nelson, that defining marriage as a man and a woman (i.e. Minnesota then-marriage law) does NOT violate the US Constitution.

    “We hold, therefore, that Minn.St. c. 517 does not offend the First, Eighth, Ninth, or Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.” That has been used to uphold marriage laws and amendments in Florida (“Wilson v. Ake”, 2005) and Nebraska (“Bruning v. Citizens for Equal Protection”, 2006).

    And, per “Agostini v. Felton” the Supreme Court also held that “The Court neither acknowledges nor holds that other courts should ever conclude that its more recent cases have, by implication, overruled an earlier precedent.” In other words, unless the Supreme Court says otherwise, “Windsor” doesn’t overturn “Baker”, as far as the lower courts go.

    • Arekushieru

      So, by your own words, they didn’t really lose. So, what ‘losses’ are you talking about? Hmm?

      Also, didn’t happen to see Jennifer Jonsson’s comment, above, did you. Or just failed to read it, because it would mean that you would have to recognize how your argument fails, so dramatically. So typical of homophobes, misogynists and just bigots, in general.