Christmas came early for East Tennessee’s LGBTQ community.
On Dec. 22, the Hamblen County Commission narrowly voted down a resolution which would have condemned the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage and advised state lawmakers to defy the verdict. The symbolic measure failed in a 5-4 vote, with four members of the commission abstaining following a two-hour deliberation.
Chris Sanders of the Tennessee Equality Project applauds the vote in a statement to INTO.
“Some people were disappointed that it wasn’t a unanimous vote against the resolution, but when you consider how far down we started, we’re pleased with the result,” the executive director says in an email. “I’m really grateful that LGBTQ people and allies in Hamblen County fought so hard.”
More than 50 people showed up outside the Hamblen County courthouse to protest Friday’s deliberations, which were brought to the floor following a near-unanimous 7-1 vote on Dec. 11.
At the time, the county board appeared to favor the resolution. Tim Goins, a Hamblen County Commissioner, claimed in a Dec. 12 interview with the Knoxville news station KBIR that marriage “should be between a man and a woman.” He added that the county’s government is “Christian-based.”
“I hate the way our country is going altogether,” Goins says. “I think we’re going down the wrong track, for the most part. I think we need to be careful with what we do here in the short future.”
The tone among commissioners on Friday was completely different.
Hamblen County Commission Chairman Louis “Doe” Jarvis claimed that approving the resolution would be an “embarrassment” for the tiny municipality.
“I don’t think it’s our business as a commission of Hamblen County to deal with matters of the U.S. Supreme Court,” says Jarvis, who was the only commissioner to vote against the symbolic measure earlier this month.
“We try to be progressive and this type of thinking in my mind isn’t progressive thinking,” he continues.
Hamblen, which numbers just 26,000 residents, would have been the ninth county to pass a resolution decrying same-sex marriage in the past two years. Similar decrees passed in neighboring Hawkins, Greene, Carter, Johnson, and Sullivan counties in late 2015 and early 2016, all of which are located in East Tennessee.
Sanders attributes the difference to the tireless work LGBTQ activists put in to mobilize opposition to the resolution.
The community advocate claims that over 130 volunteers with the Tennessee Equality Project contacted the commission to oppose the measure. In the days leading up to the vote, reports suggested that the effort was paying off.
“We kept getting word that we were peeling away votes from the resolution,” he says.
An additional 20 people came forward the day of the meeting to voice their concerns about the ordinance’s passage. One local community member, Lawrence Glover, claimed the measure would “negatively impact [the] county” and creative divisiveness.
“This is something that we need to stop,” he says, as Knoxville’s WATE reports.
“We were on edge until the vote, even though we had filled the room,” Sanders says in an email. “The speakers from Hamblen County did an incredible job telling their stories and making their arguments.”
The victory is just the latest win for LGBTQ advocates in Tennessee in recent months. The small town of Portland, located near the Kentucky border, dropped an ordinance which would have banned drag shows in its downtown area. The proposal was killed following threat of a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).