Chattanooga Appeals Judge's Decision On Referendum Language

Jul 9, 2014

Credit Frank Kehren, via Flickr/Creative Commons

The city of Chattanooga has filed a challenge to a judge's ruling on the wording of a contentious ballot measure slated for an August vote.

The referendum will ask Chattanooga voters to decide whether the domestic partners of city employees -- gay or straight -- should be eligible for benefits, as is the case with spouses of city employees. If approved, Chattanooga would be the fourth local-level government in Tennessee to extend benefits to domestic partners.

Chattanooga officials wanted to write the description of the referendum question that will appear on the August 7 ballot. But Judge Neil Thomas backed the Hamilton County Election Commission in his Monday ruling that favored different language. Thomas ruled that state law requires the measure's opponents to write the referendum question.

The ballot dispute is just the latest chapter in a legal battle that originated last November, when Chattanooga's city council voted to extend benefits to domestic partners of city employees. A conservative group led by a local tea party chair launched a petition drive to overturn the decision. The group turned in more than the requisite number of signatures, and the measure was automatically sent to voters.

It's unlikely the city's challenge will produce any immediate results. The ballots for the referendum have already been printed, and the wording will stay the same.