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Parental Rights for Same-Sex Couples in Question With Tennessee's New "Natural Meaning" Law

Posted by Josh Valentine | Jun 08, 2017 | 0 Comments

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.

About the Author

Josh Valentine

All through my life, I have personally witnessed family members and very close friends endure divorce, child custody battles, bankruptcy, civil lawsuits and even fraudulent criminal accusations. I both saw and experienced the stress such events can place on an individual, and I realized that everyone, at some point in their life, needs hope, comfort, and encouragement. In each one of those situations, the person that was best situated to provide that vital support was their lawyer.  So that's why I became an attorney.  I understand what you are going through—and I'm here to help you.  Our office is focused on meeting your needs and guiding you through what may be the most difficult time of your life. Before attending law school, I worked for a law firm focused on record clearing services, including expungements, pardons, and motions for appropriate relief.  The vast experience and understanding of North Carolina's expungement laws that I have acquired has given me an advantage in defending criminal charges, because not only do I fight for the best possible outcome in your case, but I am also continually conscious of the long term effects that a criminal charge or conviction can have on a person's life.  As such, I will do whatever I can to insure that my clients will not end up with a criminal record.  I was born in New London, Connecticut, but spent the first few years of my life in Dallas, Texas, before moving to Rutherfordton, North Carolina in 2001.  Upon graduating from high school, I attended Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, where I majored in Accounting.  Eager to finish school, I began law school at Charlotte School of Law the day of my graduation from GWU, and completed my law degree in two years (instead of the typical three). During law school, I studied hard and strived to acquire the most experience possible so that I would be practice ready upon graduation.  The opportunities I gained included prosecuting criminal defendants through an externship with the Burke County District Attorney's Office, defending criminal defendants through Charlotte School of Law's Criminal Justice Clinic, and interning with Farmer & Morris, PLLC. I am blessed with a beautiful wife, Gabrielle Valentine, who is an attorney at Farmer & Morris, PLLC, in Rutherfordton, North Carolina.  In my free time, I enjoy helping with the youth group in my church, playing basketball and softball in our local church leagues, serving in the prison ministry, and spending time with my family.  Education: Charlotte School of Law J.D., Magna Cum Laude Class Rank – 21 of 328 Associate Editor of Charlotte School of Law Law Review Certification and Concentration in Employment Law Phi Delta Phi International Legal Honor Society Order of the Crown Pro Bono Honors CALI Awards (Highest Grade)—Lawyering Process I and Contracts I Full Scholarship Gardner-Webb University B.S. in Accounting, Summa Cum Laude Distinguished Senior Student Award – Highest GPA Alpha Sigma Lambda National Honorary Society Bar Admissions: North Carolina State Bar


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