The morning after a key vote in a subcommittee of the Tennessee General Assembly, there is something of a buzz, both within Legislative Plaza and in Shelby County, regarding the identity of the lone voter for a bill to enable flouting of last year’s decision of the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage.
That voter was Jim Coley, a longtime Republican state representative from District 97, which takes in Bartlett and other parts of eastern Shelby County. Coley chairs the Civil Justice subcommittee which on Wednesday rejected HB 1412, the “Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act,” sponsored by state Rep. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) and state Senator Mae Beavers (R-t. Juliet).
The buzz is based on the fact that Coley, a teacher at Bolton High School, is widely regarded as one of the Republican super-majority’s few bona fide moderates.
As reported earlier by Bianca Phillips
, the Pody-Beavers bill would have provided legal shelter by the state to county court clerks in Tennessee who declined to acknowledge and certify same-sex marriage. The subcommittee’s two Democrats — Bill Beck and Sherry Jones, both of Nashville, voted no on a voice vote, as did the two other Republicans — Mike Carter of Ooltewah, a suburb of Chattanooga, and Jon Lundberg of Bristol, in northeast Tennessee.
Carter and Lundberg expressed themselves as seeing the bill as endorsing nullification, a doctrine that from pre-Civil War times on, has been resoundingly rejected. Carter equated nullification with “anarchy,” and even former legislator David Fowler, now president of the Tennessee Family Action Council, which vehemently opposes same-sex marriage, testified that the Pody-Beavers bill was unenforceable.
Coley, a teacher at Bolton High School who acknowledges that he is probably rightly considered “moderate to conservative,” says that his vote, while expressing his own point of view, was primarily meant to convey the attitude of his constituents.
“One of the largest and most active churches in Tennessee, Bellevue Baptist, is in my district,” he pointed out. He said there had been numerous communications from his district, “both pro and con,” but that he concurred with proponents of the bill that some statement needed to be made in defense of the traditional one man-one woman view of marriage.
“When you think about it, for a 5-4 decision by a court to strike down an institution that had existed for thousands of years in that form and, without doubt, is still supported by a vast majority of people in this culture is highly undemocratic,” Coley said. He noted that a constitutional amendment against gay marriage, authored by then Rep. Fowler, had received 81 percent approval from the state’s voters in 2006.
Coley says that he will likely stick to his guns in the event of new legislation against same-sex marriage. A new bill to accomplish that end is supposedly forthcoming from state Rep. Susan Lynn, and Pody and Beavers have another one coming that would prohibit state and local officials from enforcing any federal order that is inconsistent with the “the public policy of the state.”