Judge rejects divorce case, cites gay marriage ruling

Posted Sep 3, 2015 by Michael Thomas
A Tennessee couple who filed for divorce about a year ago are stuck with each other. Hamilton County's chancellor denied their petition, citing the U.S. Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling.
A gavel in a courtroom
A gavel in a courtroom
Joe Gratz (CC0 1.0)
The decision came from Jeffrey Atherton, who essentially said the June Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage across the country has destroyed the court's ability to grant divorces.
Specifically, Atherton wrote:
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.
He added the Supreme Court should issue a ruling on when a marriage is no longer a marriage — otherwise, he said, state courts won't be able to address marriage and divorce cases properly.
The divorce case was between Thomas Bumgardner and Pamela Bumgardner. The two were married in November 2002, had no kids and filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences, in September 2014.
Last week, Atherton rejected the divorce petition after hearing from seven witnesses and going through 77 exhibits. He decided the marriage was "not irretrievably broken" and could be salvaged. Neither the Bumgardners nor their attorneys have chosen to comment on the matter.
The couple will be allowed to file for divorce again but will have to come up with new reasons.
A lawyer who represented a Tennessee couple in the Supreme Court case, Regina Lambert, said Atherton's reasoning isn't relevant. She said the Supreme Court ruling did not deal with divorce at all, but marriage equality, and suggested Atherton was expressing his displeasure with the decision.
"I just think change is hard for people," she said.
Penny White, a former Tennessee Supreme Court member and now a professor at University of Tennessee College of Law, said regardless of person opinions, judges must defer to Supreme Court rulings.
Atherton isn't the only public official who's acted on displeasure with the gay marriage ruling. Kim Davis, a Kentucky clerk, has refused to grant marriage licenses to gay couples. She was Thursday held in contempt and ordered to jail.