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Group asks supporters to express opposition to resolution

An advocacy group for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is encouraging Unicoi Countians to voice their support for marriage equality before the county’s legislative body.
The Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), which fights for marriage equality throughout the state, is asking residents to attend an upcoming meeting and wear red as a way to oppose a proposed resolution of the Unicoi County Commission that voices the panel’s support for defining marriage to be between one man and one woman.
The panel could have discussed the resolution at its meeting on Monday, Jan. 25. However, the resolution was not on the agenda for that meeting.
The resolution, according to discussion during the panel’s work session and meeting on Dec. 28 will also support the overturning of the June 2015 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges which made same-sex marriage legal in the United States.
Chris Sanders, a representative of the TEP, told The Erwin Record in a phone interview on Friday, Jan. 15, the advocacy group also encourages residents who support marriage equality to address the Commission during the time for citizens’ comments at the meeting.
“We also encourage citizens to contact their commissioners,” Sanders said.
During the Dec. 28 work session, Charlene Thomas, a representative of the Family Action Council of Tennessee and pastor David Crutchfield addressed the Commission about the Family Action Council’s efforts to fight same-sex marriage and the Supreme Court’s decision.
“We have a growing concern for our liberties and freedoms that we hold dear,” Crutchfield read from a prepared statement. “… The majority of the people in the state of Tennessee believe in God’s definition of marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman. In 2006, Tennesseans passed an amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman.
“The amendment passed with 81 percent of Tennesseans voting in favor of the biblical definition of marriage. In Unicoi County, it was 88.2 percent voting in favor of the biblical definition of marriage,” Crutchfield continued.
Crutchfield went on to say that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges was an “overreach” and “a overstepping its power.”
“The Court’s decision has compromised our rights in the state of Tennessee,” Crutchfield continued. “And has created confusion in how we follow our own state constitution. … Same-sex marriage is just one of many encroachments (by the Court). …”
Sanders said the TEP disagrees with this argument.
“Judicial review is a long-established precedent in this country,” he explained. “The Supreme Court correctly interpreted the 14th Amendment and struck down marriage laws that discriminate.”
During the Dec. 28 meeting, commissioners and Family Action Council representatives said the county’s resolution would show its support for any state legislation that would define marriage as between one man and one woman.
Regarding this legislation, which is being considered as the Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act, Sanders referenced a Jan. 14 report in The Tennessean newspaper that stated that passage of the bill could cost the state more than $8.5 billion in federal dollars if the state fails to comply with federal law.
According to The Tennessean article, which was written by Stacey Barchenger, the bill, if passed “would direct Tennessee officials to essentially ignore the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.”
The article goes on to reference the fiscal note included with the bill. The note states: “The provisions of the bill could jeopardize federal funding if it is determined the state is noncompliant with federal law. The Bureau of TennCare reports that if someone is denied coverage that would otherwise be eligible by virtue of being in a same-sex marriage, and such action is considered noncompliant with federal law, then the Bureau’s federal funding, approximately $6,510,520,500 in FY15-16, could be in jeopardy. The Department of Human Services reports that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds the department receives could also be in jeopardy. These funds total over $2 billion.”
The bill, including the fiscal note, is available online through the Tennessee General Assembly’s website; it is numbered “HB1412” and “SB1437.” The bill is being sponsored by Rep. Mark Pody, a republican from Lebanon.
“I think it is important to look at the $8.5 billion,” Sanders said. “It is reckless to defy the Supreme Court. It endangers federal funding that comes to Tennessee. That affects programs for all kinds of citizens.
“Counties really need to think carefully before they take the step of whipping the state into a frenzy against LGBT people,” Sanders added.
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On Dec. 28, the Commission voted 8-0 to have County Attorney Doug Shults draft a resolution using the materials from the Family Action Council as guidelines for consideration at its January meeting.
Voting in favor of drafting the resolution were Chairwoman Marie Rice and commissioners Walter Garland, Jason Harris, Bridget Peters, Kenneth Garland, Glenn White, Loren Thomas and John Mosley.
The Jan. 25 County Commission meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.
The panel typically meets in a work session at 5 p.m. The meetings are held at the Unicoi County Courthouse.
A Facebook group, “Wear Red to Oppose Unicoi County Marriage Resolution,” has been created for those who plan to voice their opposition to the proposed resolution.