NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A bill seeking to block the U.S. Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling in Tennessee was defeated Wednesday in the state House over concerns about nullifying federal rulings.
The Civil Justice Subcommittee voted 4-1 against the Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act sponsored by Republican Rep. Mark Pody of Lebanon, who argued that the ruling should not supersede an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
More than 80 percent of Tennessee voters approved that amendment in 2006 that included a provision to declare that any judicial interpretation to the contrary "shall be void and unenforceable in Tennessee."
Last year's Supreme Court decision was based on cases in four states including Tennessee, where three couples had sued to have their out-of-state marriages recognized.
Republican Rep. Mike Carter of Chattanooga said that although he disagrees with the high court's ruling, he considered the proposal to be a step too far.
"Nullification scares the daylights out of me," Carter said. "Because no one will answer me who has the authority to nullify, and nobody will answer me where that authority is derived."
Carter was among two Republicans and two Democrats who voted against the bill. Republican Rep Jim Coley, the panel's chairman from the Memphis suburb of Bartlett, was the lone vote in favor of the bill.
Legislative analysts estimated that if the state were to refuse services to same-sex couples, Tennessee could stand to lose $6.5 billion in federal Medicaid money and another $2 billion in food stamp and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds.
But supporters of the measure urged lawmakers to act now against the gay marriage ruling regardless of the cost.
"We have to do something quickly, because there's a cliff ahead of us, a civilization, and it's within sight," said Lydon Allen, a pastor at the Woodmont Bible Church in Nashville.
Chet Gallagher of a group called Courts Cannot Make Laws urged the panel not to stop the bill from being considered by the larger body.
"Do not let this die here," Gallagher said. "Let it go to your peers and be voted on the way that it's supposed to be voted on."
"In the name of Jesus, I'm begging you to do that," he said.
An animated overflow crowd watched proceedings on hallway monitors, cheering and laughing at the spirited debate between lawmakers and gay marriage opponents.
After the bill's defeat, they gathered in the committee room to commiserate and pray.
Carter told the group that it would be more prudent to seek legal challenges before trying to declare the Supreme Court ruling void in Tennessee.
"Why throw out two or three methods by jumping to what I think is the final step, not the first step," Carter said.