Tennessee legislators passed a new law defining terms in state law by their “natural meaning.” However, a few days after the new law was passed, a controversial lawsuit was filed over the potential issues and implications regarding the new regulations. Some same-sex couples are worried the "natural meaning" law will put their parenting rights at risk.
Four married, lesbian couples, each expecting children through artificial insemination, filed a lawsuit over concerns that the new “natural and ordinary meaning” wording could eradicate their rights as parents. The lawsuit has been filed against the state of Tennessee, the Tennessee Department of Health, Commissioner John Dreyzehner, and Gov. Bill Haslam, who had just signed the legislation into law.
The law provides, “undefined words shall be given their natural and ordinary meaning without forced or subtle construction that would limit or extend the meaning of the language, except when a contrary intention is clearly manifest.”
To many, the new legislation seems vague and harmless. However, the purpose behind the bill has concerned the plaintiffs and compelled them to file the lawsuit. Last year, in a custody dispute after the divorce of a lesbian couple, a Tennessee judge ruled in the favor of one parent on the basis that the other had no biological or contractual relationship with the child. In another case, the Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT) acted on behalf of 53 Republican state legislators when it decided to file a motion supporting the denial of custody rights to one of the mothers on a similar basis.
In response to these cases, a number of bills were proposed and passed this year to moderate the definitions of the words, “husband,” “wife” and “mother.” And while the new regulation does not specifically reference the LGBT community, advocacy groups and spectators worry the law's true objective is aimed at same-sex couples. Critics claim that the law contradicts the Supreme Court's decision to permit same-sex couples to legally marry. The couples' attorney, has echoed this notion in a recent statement.
“The Supreme Court said that gay people could get married,” the lawyer told NBC. “If that's to be meaningful, then same-sex couples have to be treated the same way that opposite-sex couples are, and that means parentage just like anyone else.”
Nonetheless, Tennessee lawmakers deny that the law was aimed at a certain demographic. The bill's main sponsor, Andrew Farmer, claims that it has “nothing to do with the same-sex marriage or gender.”
Before the implementation of the “natural meaning” law and in accordance with the Supreme Court's decision, the term “husband” included female spouses in same-sex marriages. This meant that children born through artificial insemination were considered the legitimate child of both women in a lesbian marriage. But under the new law, “husband", in its natural meaning, means a male husband of a female wife.
The couples behind the lawsuit are seeking to have the new law overturned.
If you feel like your parental rights are at risk, contact an attorney who can advocate for you. Contact Caulder Valentine today for a consultation.