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Amendment One

The first question on the ballot asks voters to ban gay marriage.

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Elton John and his partner are lucky they don't live in Tennessee.

The pair tied the knot in Great Britain last winter, after Parliament voted to legalize same-sex civil partnership and allow gay couples the same social security, tax, and inheritance benefits as married straight couples.

But in the Volunteer State, voters are being asked to choose whether a ban on gay marriage should be written into the state constitution.

The lead question on the November ballot asks voters to cast a "yes" vote if they'd like to amend the state constitution to say that "the relationship of one man and one woman shall be the only recognized marital contract in this state." Those who vote "no" are against adding such a ban to the state constitution.

However, gay marriage is already illegal in Tennessee and has been for a decade. "It essentially makes permanent what the state law already says," explains Jonathan Cole, who co-manages the Memphis chapter of the statewide "Vote No on 1" campaign. "The opposition [to same-sex marriage] says they want to prevent future generations and activist judges from changing the law."

Cole and Tommie Simmons, both activists in the gay rights group Initiative: Fairness, have been leading the local effort to prevent passage of the amendment.

"Going door-to-door is a very intimidating endeavor, but we've been pleasantly surprised," says Simmons. "We've been keeping polls, and about 70 percent of the people have been supportive in opposing the amendment. We do get some resistance, but we're not there to change minds. We're there to bring awareness to the issue."

Cole says they're mostly focusing on progressive voters in the hopes of "trying to reach the choir so the choir will go out and vote."

The movement supporting the amendment to ban gay marriage is active too. The Chattanooga-based Real Marriage campaign, run by retiring state senator David Fowler, is urging voters to vote "yes."

"If people do not put the definition of marriage into the Constitution, they will leave that definition up to three unelected, unaccountable people on our state Supreme Court," says Fowler. "A decision with such profound effects socially, legally, and economically should not be made by three people."

If gay marriage were legalized, Fowler says it would force employers to offer insurance to partners in same-sex couples, rather than leaving that decision up to "free market principles." He also fears landlords would be forced to rent to gay married couples, even if that lifestyle violated their personal morals.

After the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage last week, Democratic senatorial candidate Harold Ford Jr. stated: "I oppose gay marriage, and have voted twice in Congress to amend the United States Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. This November, there's a referendum on the Tennessee ballot to ban same-sex marriage. I am voting for it."

"This [amendment] is nothing more than a thinly-veiled partisan attempt to drive the religious right to the polls," says Shelby County Democratic Party chair Matt Kuhn. Kuhn says county Democrats are against writing discrimination into the state constitution.

"It's not just the gay community that has a vested interest in this," says Cole. "It's people who care about diversity and human rights and don't want our state to be known as a place where discrimination prevails."

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