Same-Sex Couples Can Divorce in Tennessee: Borman v. Pyles-Borman

Facts: In 2010, two men were married in Iowa, whose laws allowed individuals of the same sex to marry. Iowa law did not require the individuals marrying to be residents of Iowa, and the parties’ marriage certificate stated they were residents of Roane County, Tennessee. Iowa law, however, does require residency for a specified minimum period in order to obtain a divorce in Iowa.

After marrying in Iowa, the men continued to reside in Tennessee.

Plaintiff filed a complaint for divorce in Roane County, Tennessee. He raised a constitutional challenge to Tennessee’s prohibition on same-sex marriage, which prohibition refused to recognize the Iowa marriage because it did not occur between “one man and one woman.”

Tennessee flagBecause of the constitutional challenge, the Tennessee Attorney General was allowed to intervene in the lawsuit.

After a hearing, the trial court ruled Tennessee’s prohibition on same-sex marriage did not violate the Constitution of the United States.

Plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the State of Tennessee moved to hold the appeal in abeyance pending the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Tanco v. Haslam. The Court of Appeals granted the motion.

The United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Tanco v. Haslam on June 26, 2015.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision, the parties filed supplemental briefs as directed by the Court of Appeals. In its supplemental brief, the State of Tennessee concedes that Tanco v. Haslam compels the outcome in this case.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.

The Court explained:

As pertinent to the case now before us, the United States Supreme Court held in [Tanco v. Haslam] “that there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character.” We, as an intermediate appellate court, are bound by the decisions of the Tennessee Supreme Court as to state and federal constitutional questions, and the United States Supreme Court as the ultimate authority as to federal constitutional questions. Given this, we reverse the Trial Court’s [] order and remand this case for further proceedings consistent with the United States Supreme Court’s Opinion in [Tanco v. Haslam] and this Opinion.

Accordingly, the case was remanded so this same-sex couple can finally get divorced.

Borman v. Pyles-Borman (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, August 4, 2015).

Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce and Family Law Attorney.

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K.O. Herston is a family-law attorney in Knoxville, Tennessee whose practice is devoted exclusively to family law, including divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, prenuptial agreements, and other aspects of family law.

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