by Regina M. Lambert & Abby R. Rubenfeld
On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court, in Obergefell v. Hodges, held 5-4 that the right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In this landmark victory for civil rights, the Supreme Court struck down state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage by holding that the fundamental right to marry includes same-sex couples wishing to enter into the institution of marriage. The Court’s milestone ruling advanced the liberty and equality of lesbians and gay men—who were once considered deviant, mentally disordered, and whose sexual behavior was criminalized in several states into the twenty-first century.
This article addresses the perceptual transformation of the gay individual from a “deviant” societal view to one of “dignity” as acknowledged by the United States Supreme Court. Specifically, it reviews the implementation of Tennessee’s first sodomy law in the early 1800s, enforcement over the following one hundred plus years, Tennessee citizens’ changing moral view of gay people, the reversal of Tennessee’s sodomy law, and ultimately the Supreme Court ruling mandating marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges/Tanco v. Haslam.
While keeping a main focus on the progression of Tennessee law, this article will follow Supreme Court litigation from Bowers v. Hardwick through Obergefell as a background and national overview to contrast the advancement of gay rights nationally. Finally, this article will address the immediate impact of national marriage equality on Tennessee and future issues likely to arise post-Tanco.
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