NASHVILLE – Same-sex couples in Tennessee have the same rights as heterosexual couples who have children born through artificial insemination, a judge ruled.
Four married lesbian couples sued after the state passed a law that requires using the "natural and ordinary meaning" of words in state law. Gay rights groups said the requirement was a sneaky way to deny same-sex couples the legal rights and protections granted to a "husband," a "wife," a "father" or "mother."
Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle's dismissed the couples' lawsuit on Friday, saying they didn't prove their rights had been violated, The Tennessean reported . Each of the four couples has conceived a child using a sperm donor and the first baby is not expected until September.
Still, the couples heralded the ruling as a victory because it will give them equal parental rights when the children are born.
"We have a Tennessee court order saying same-sex couples are to be treated the same as opposite-sex couples," said attorney Julia Tate-Keith, who represented the couples.
The decision comes about a month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex couples who believed an Arkansas law discriminated against them. Under that law, married lesbian couples had to get a court order to have both spouses listed as parents on their children's birth certificates.
In previous court filings, Attorney General Herbert Slatery had argued that the new Tennessee law actually does "nothing new at all."
The new law should be considered alongside a more-specific state law requiring gender-specific words to be interpreted as inclusive, a filing by the state said. Previously, Slatery issued an opinion that said a judge would likely side with the state law requiring gender-inclusive interpretations.
The new law was pushed by the Family Action Council of Tennessee, which advocates for one-man, one-woman marriage.
Another bill this year explicitly wanted the words "husband," ''wife," ''mother," and "father" to be interpreted by their natural and ordinary meanings based on the biological distinctions between men and women. That bill gained no traction. The measure that ultimately passed avoids those specifics, and merely states that any word undefined in state law must be used according to its "natural and ordinary meaning."
The state's motion also points out that in a divorce proceeding this spring, a Knox County judge ruled that the wife of a woman who conceived a child through artificial insemination was a parent. That ruling came before the new law was signed.
The judge had initially ruled differently, saying in June 2016 that the wife had no parental rights because she did not meet the legal definition of "husband."
Dozens of conservative Tennessee lawmakers had tried to intervene in the case, but the judge rejected the request.