Kim Davis’ notoriety has expanded exponentially since she began refusing to issue marriage licenses in Rowan County Kentucky where she is the elected County clerk. Citing her religious views which hold marriage equality to be immoral, she has since been taken into custody for contempt in refusing to follow an order from a Federal court.
However, it appears that she may just be the first elected official to take their prejudicial beliefs to extremes and refuse to perform the basic function for which they were elected. Now comes news out of Harrison County, Tennessee that elected judge Jeffrey Atherton has refused to grant a divorce, citing the recent Supreme Court decision granting marriage equality, drawing from it the conclusion that the state is incompetent to decide what marriage is, thus having no authority to dissolve one.
Hamilton County Chancellor Jeffrey Atherton denied the divorce petition last week after hearing from seven witnesses and going through 77 exhibits. Among several reasons he cited in rejecting the couple’s divorce, one was the Supreme Court’s June ruling.
Atherton said the Supreme Court must clarify “when a marriage is no longer a marriage.” Otherwise, he contended, state courts are impaired from addressing marriage and divorce litigation altogether.
“The conclusion reached by this Court is that Tennesseans have been deemed by the U.S. Supreme Court to be incompetent to define and address such keystone/central institutions such as marriage, and, thereby, at minimum, contested divorces,” Atherton wrote.
The couple, both in their sixties, with no children and who have been married since 2002 had no comment.
Tennessee has largely accepted the Supreme Court’s decision without rancor and the judge’s decision has caused dismay amongst other legal professionals and scholars.
Some lawyers wondered why Atherton chose to cite the Supreme Court decision. Others emphasized how unusual it is for a judge to dismiss a divorce. And some questioned the legal grounds Atherton used to justify his ruling.
“I don’t know for sure,” said Chattanooga attorney Mike Richardson, “but I suspect the U.S. Supreme Court did not intend to preempt divorce law.”
Jim Blumstein, a professor of constitutional law at Vanderbilt University, said the Supreme Court decision does not appear to be the main determinant behind Atherton’s dismissal; he believes Atherton is expressing his political disagreement with the ruling.
You can read even more in this story from the Chattanooga Times Free Press