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Lt. Corliss Cooper, left, speaks with Kat Cooper in this 2013 file photo.

With 70 percent of Americans living in states that recognize same-sex marriages, it's only a matter of time before all states in the country follow suit, Kat Cooper, Tennessee Equality Project co-chair for Hamilton and Bradley counties, said Sunday.

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision about whether lesbians and gays have a constitutional right to marry or if states must recognize such marriages is expected by late June but could come sooner, said Cooper.

The Tennessee Equality Project hosted a meeting in Collegedale on Sunday to prepare the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community for how to react to either a favorable or an unfavorable decision by the high court. About 20 people attended including Chris Sanders, the Tennessee Equality Project director from Nashville.

The Supreme Court will consider four cases from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Justices will consolidate the cases and hear them together in April. Same-sex couples can marry in 36 states, but not in Tennessee and 13 other states.

Cooper said that if the Supreme Court supports same-sex marriages, local court clerks will be required to give couples marriage licenses but they don't have to sign them.

Cooper said she hasn't checked with the Hamilton County court clerk, and there may be no problem, but if the clerk or some ministers are reluctant to sign licenses, other ministers are willing to sign.

Elsewhere, some ministers have objected to signing marriage licenses for same-sex couples because such unions are a sin in their faith. The Tennessee Equality Project wants to get an idea of where people stand so that if the clerk or certain ministers aren't agreeable to signing the license, same-sex couples will find another willing person, said Cooper.

The high court is expected to decide whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, and whether states that don't permit gay marriage must acknowledge lawful marriages performed elsewhere.

A favorable ruling would mean that same-sex couples can marry and receive the same legal benefits as heterosexual couples. The couple would be covered under workplace benefits and family insurance just as heterosexual couples are, said Cooper.

If the Supreme Court rules against recognizing same-sex marriages, the Tennessee Equality Project will continue to press companies to offer domestic partner benefits and encourage anti-bullying laws that include gender identity and expression.

"We're just trying to get the word out that if this does rule in our favor, we have people here locally who are ordained ministers who can sign the marriage license," Cooper said. "If people reach out to us, we can help them get where they need to go."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or 757-6431.

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