A Tennessee couple are being forced to stay married “against their will” because a local judge denied their divorce for reasons that an attorney for the plaintiffs suggested were capricious and politically motivated.
After a long hearing involving seven witnesses, Hamilton County Chancellor Jeffrey Atherton said the Supreme Court must clarify “when a marriage is no longer a marriage,” the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.
“The conclusion reached by this court is that Tennesseans have been deemed by the U.S. Supreme Court [in its June ruling on gay marriage] to be incompetent to define and address such keystone/central institutions as marriage, and, thereby, at minimum, contested divorces,” Atherton wrote.
For now, Thomas Bumgardner, 65, and his wife, Pamela, 61, remain reluctantly married. The couple cited “irreconcilable differences” in 2014 and have no children, according to the Free Press.
One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Regina Lambert, told the Free Press that the judge’s reasoning was irrelevant.
“Overall, Tennessee has had a fantastic response to this Supreme Court decision,” Lambert said. “He is just making a statement.
“I just think change is hard for people.”
Penny White, a former member of the Tennessee Supreme Court and now a professor at the University of Tennessee College of Law, also weighed in on the judge’s decision.
“State court judges, regardless of their personal points of view, must defer to the Supreme Court’s constitutional interpretation,” White told the Free Press.
Atherton defended his decision but declined to discuss it in detail.
“There are several different grounds a person can claim to support entitlement to divorce,” Atherton said.
The judge said that if the Bumgardners wish to continue the divorce process, they will have to come up with a different justification, the Free Press reported.
“Hopefully, they can reconcile,” Atherton said.
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