Judge refuses to let straight couple divorce, because he doesn’t know what ‘marriage’ is any more

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

A judge has rejected a straight couple’s request for a divorce – claiming he can’t decide what ‘marriage’ means any more now that gays can marry.

Thomas and Pamela Bumgardner tied the knot in November 2002 – but due to “irreconcilable differences” and “inappropriate marital conduct” the pair filed for divorce last year.

But despite the Bumgardner case having nothing at all to do with same-sex marriage, a Tennessee judge has made the ridiculous claim that he can’t let them separate because of it.

According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Hamilton County chancellor Jeffrey Atherton heard from seven witnesses across four days as the couple sought the right to split.

However, in a frankly bizarre ruling, judge Atherton wrote that because of the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage meant that he had no authority to decide on divorce.

His ruling also includes overtly homophobic language, accusing the Supreme Court of acting with an “iron fist and limp wrist” – a pejorative term for gay men.

He wrote: “With the US Supreme Court having defined what must be recognised as a marriage, it would appear that Tennessee’s judiciary must now await the decision of the US Supreme Court as to what is not a marriage, or better stated, when a marriage is no longer a marriage.

“The conclusion reached by this Court is that Tennesseans have been deemed by the US Supreme Court to be 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.”

It adds: “Implementation of this apparently new “super-federal-judicial” form of benign and benevolent government… with its iron fist and limp wrist, represents quite a challenge for a state level trial court.”

While judges have the power to outright refuse to grant divorces, in reality this is rarely exercised (other than in bad romantic comedy films).

Hundreds of divorces have been granted across the US without issue since the Supreme Court ruling – and no judge has taken any issue until now.

Some questioned the overtly selfish political motives of the act.

Equality lawyer Regina Lambert, who made the case for equal marriage in the state, said: “He is just making a statement… I just think change is hard for people.”

“Overall, Tennessee has had a fantastic response to [the] Supreme Court decision.”