Marriage equality and state rights at question in lawsuit against Bradley Co. Clerk

PJ and Thomas McKay married in Bradley County in 2015. (Image: PJ McKay)

UPDATE (December 13):

In a court hearing Wednesday, the judge announced he will take 30 days before possibly making a decision on a case that could determine the future of all marriage licenses in Bradley county.

The lawsuit was filed against Bradley County clerk Donna Simpson, whose job is to issue marriage licenses for both same sex and traditional couples.

Simpson's attorney presented new paperwork Wednesday, claiming the people who filed the suit don't have a valid argument.

The plaintiffs claim that when the Supreme Court ruled same sex couples have the right to marry, they took away an important power away from the states.

"I'm not trying to interfere with anybody's relationships," says David Fowler, the plaintiff's attorney. "What I am trying to do is make sure we uphold the constitution and the rule of law."

"Pass an act. Stop fooling around with trying to get the judiciary to get involved in your problem," says Jim Logan, Simpson's attorney.

Donna Simpson's attorney tells us she's following the law and doing her job.

Depend on us to keep you posted.


The future of all marriages in Bradley County is front and center in a lawsuit set to be in court December 13.

The suit is against Bradley County's Clerk Donna Simpson. Her office issues marriage licenses. It was filed by Guinn Green, a Bradley County minister, and Howard Thompson, a Bradley County commissioner.

David Fowler represents the plaintiffs. He's the president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, a group that opposes same sex marriage. He wants the power of marriage laws to be back in the state's hands after the Supreme Court ruling in 2015 that same sex couples have the right to marry.

"I think our clients would like to have marriage return to an understanding that it's between a man and a woman," Fowler said.

We spoke to PJ McKay. He married his husband Thomas in Bradley County in 2015.

"The law passed that we could get married in Bradley County which was such a huge thing to us," McKay said.

PJ is surprised to hear about the lawsuit, originally filed in 2016.

"It sounds so crazy, I don't see how it could actually happen," McKay said.

Fowler says the goal of the lawsuit is "to answer some important constitutional questions that the Supreme Court's decision in 2015 left open and unanswered."

He says he filed in Bradley county because he's familiar with the area, and the two plaintiffs were willing to take this on.

"The larger point that should concern us all is whether we are going to act lawlessly, make up laws and pretend we have laws when we don't have them," Fowler said.

Jim Logan represents Donna Simpson. He says the clerk is doing her job as set by the law.

"This is making a political football out of what has been determined by the highest court in the land as a constitutional right," Logan said.

PJ is keeping a close eye on this case and says it would be devastating if his marriage rights are taken away.

"It's disappointing for me and my husband, and the community as a whole that this is something you're trying to push," McKay said.

Fowler says this is a legal issue, not a factual one, so the judge will rule based on the facts in a motion for summary judgement set for December 13.

One possibility is that all marriage licenses issued after the 2015 ruling could be determined invalid.

"If that is what the court says we need to appreciate that it's because of what the Supreme Court said, not because of this lawsuit," Fowler said.

Fowler said he would like the Supreme Court to realize they "overstepped constitutional authority" by telling states how they must license marriages. He wants the authority given back to the states to decide what marriage means.

The lawsuit states "In particular all Plaintiffs seek a declaration that those provisions of the Tennessee law relative to the licensing of marriages are no longer valid and enforceable since the Obergefell decision and that the continued issuance of marriage licenses under those circumstances violates their aforesaid rights under the Tennessee Constitution."

Fowler is part of a similar suit in Williamson County.

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