Summary of recent Tennessee newspaper editorials

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Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

June 30

Knoxville (Tennessee) News Sentinel on the U.S. Supreme Court and same-sex marriage:

In a historic decision, a sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court on Friday extended the right to marry to gays and lesbians.

The 5-4 decision immediately wiped out Tennessee's constitutional definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. All states now must license and recognize same-sex marriages.

Gov. Bill Haslam and state Attorney General Herbert Slatery, though expressing dismay at the outcome, pledged to abide by the decision. Some county clerks began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples within hours of the announcement of the ruling.

Passions run high on both sides of this issue, which goes to the core of the meaning of family. Marriage, for many, has deeply religious dimensions. Some religions do not recognize same-sex marriages, while others have embraced the practice. The Supreme Court cannot dictate a person's conscience, and pastors will not be required to perform same-sex marriages if contrary to their beliefs.

But marriage also is a secular, legal arrangement. As the final arbiter of constitutional law, the Supreme Court has spoken and Americans must accept the decision as the law of the land regarding the legal status of gay couples.

That means that Tennessee now recognizes the marriage of plaintiffs Sophy Jesty and Val Tanco, who married in New York City before moving to Knoxville. They sued to gain recognition from the state.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, declared "the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty."

Chief Justice John Roberts in his dissent countered that the court's decision improperly interfered with the legislative developments surrounding same-sex marriage. "Supporters of same-sex marriage have achieved considerable success persuading their fellow citizens — through the democratic process — to adopt their view," Roberts wrote. "That ends today."

Some analysts believe the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 hardened the battle lines over abortion rights because the court stepped in before the people had spoken. Seventeen states had legalized abortion before Roe v. Wade; 36 states recognized same-sex marriages prior to Friday's decision.

Haslam, Slatery and the county clerks should be commended for being prepared for the ruling. Several couples, including Jon Coffee and Keith Swafford in Knox County, applied for licenses and were married the day the decision came down.

Clerks and the employees of agencies that now will be providing services to same-sex couples for the first time have a duty to follow the law and treat same-sex couples with the dignity to which they are entitled under the court's ruling.

Despite Friday's decision, same-sex marriage likely will be the source of controversy in the years to come. At the end of the day, though, the Supreme Court has determined that marriage is a fundamental right and that all married couples are equal under the law.


June 29

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on Haslam's gas tax proposal:

Gov. Bill Haslam deserves a hand for the courageous campaign he is launching for an increase in Tennessee's 21.4 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax — the nation's 12th lowest — to fix the state's deteriorating system of roads and bridges.

As reported by our journalistic colleagues in Chattanooga, an aggressive anti-tax campaign is being planned by the billionaire Koch Brothers' Americans for Prosperity at about the time Haslam plans to tour the state to tout a higher tax rate on fuel.

He also has to answer this question: Governor, if the state has been doing so well economically, as you have said repeatedly while you look over the blueprints for a new state museum and other cool stuff, why are you asking for more tax revenue?

Of course, street and highway improvements are funded by the gas tax, while other state government functions are funded by a variety of other revenue sources.

But that distinction can easily be glossed over by those who assert that the cheaper government we have, the happier we will be.

In fact, the state needs to add a few pennies to its gas tax rate, especially while Congress continues to kick the federal highway funding can down the Interstate. The federal fuel tax rate has languished at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993.

Let's hope our mild-mannered governor has his game face on for what he has acknowledged will be a "hard sell." Perhaps he has learned something from his unsuccessful pitch for Insure Tennessee, the proposal to use federal funds to give about 300,000 low-income workers access to affordable health insurance — a casualty of attacks by Americans for Prosperity and others.

One possible selling point on the gas tax hike is embedded in a recent poll by Associated Press-GfK that found a significant number of respondents — 44 percent — prefer living in an urban area with a short drive to work or the opportunity to use public transportation, bike or walk to where they need to go.

Another poll, conducted last fall for the American Public Transportation Association, found 68 percent of U.S. residents in favor of more federal spending on public transportation systems — up by 2 percent from the previous year.

Mass transit now gets only 16 percent of the proceeds from the federal fuel tax. When Congress gets around to a permanent plan for highway funding, that figure should be raised.

There is no question that the environment and quality of life in a city like Memphis would benefit from a larger, more efficient and more reliable urban mass transit system, not to mention rail passenger service to destinations such as Little Rock, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga.

Rebuilding Tennessee's crumbling streets, roads and bridges is a worthwhile goal. They will last a lot longer if we don't use them as much.


June 30

Paris (Tennessee) Post-Intelligencer on the Confederate flag:

Being free carries with it the right to be ugly. Marching out of step is a constitutional right.

So the owner of a Confederate flag display and statue beside Interstate 65 in Nashville has a right to his opinion.

But the state or adjacent property owners have an equal right to plant screening vegetation — or even to put up a brick wall — to block the view of passers-by.

And at least one columnist says John Jay Hooker is violating no great principle when he promotes an aging person's use of discretion in how and when life should end. It may not be what we believe, but this is a free country.

In Nashville, The Tennessean columnist Frank Daniels III says these flaps remind him of the storm created by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1989 that it's legal to burn an American flag as a symbol of protest against government actions.

That's what free speech is all about, Justice William Brennan declared. "It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces conditions of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are or even stirs people to anger," he wrote.

Unrest, dissatisfaction and anger are among reactions to Supreme Court rulings last week upholding legality of the Affordable Care Act and legalizing gay marriage.

Thomas Jefferson believed we should have a revolution every few years to be sure government is in tune with the populace.

That turned out to be an impractical way to do things, but it does suggest to us the connection between dissatisfaction and good government.


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