Judge Reprimanded for Using Gay Marriage as Excuse to Deny Divorce

A Tennessee judge was reprimanded by the U.S. Supreme Court after claiming the legalization of same-sex marriage prevented him from granting a a divorce to a local heterosexual couple.

By Avital Borisovsky
January 08, 2016
gay marriage and divorce

Judge Jeffrey Atherton of Chattanooga, TN dismissed a man and woman’s contested divorce case “for lack of subject matter jurisdiction,” according to a letter of public reprimand issued on Dec. 23 by The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct. Last August, the judge wrote an opinionated letter where he claimed the U.S. Supreme Court's gay-marriage decision in Obergefell v. Hodges meant Tennesseans were now “incompetent to define and address such keystone/central institutions such as marriage and, thereby, at minimum, contested divorces."

“Consequently, since only our federal courts are wise enough to address the issues of marriage and, therefore, contested divorces, it only follows that this Court's jurisdiction has been preempted,” Atherton wrote in the Order. The judge further criticized the Supreme Court by stating, “...implantation of this apparently new ‘super-federal-judicial’ form of benign and benevolent government, termed ‘kryptocracy’ by some and ‘judi­-idiocracy’ by others, with its iron fist and limp wrist, represents quite a challenge for a state level trial court.”

According to the Board’s letter, Atherton violated a section of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which states, “A judge shall uphold and promote the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.”

The Board stated the judge was fully cooperative with the Disciplinary Counsel during their investigation into the order and had recognized that he “may have been in error entering the Order as written and recognized that the order could have been misunderstood by the public as undermining its confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary,” despite it not being his intention.

Atherton entered an order in September vacating his previous order and granted the couple a divorce after complaints were filed against him.

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January 08, 2016

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