NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee district attorney is facing calls for an investigation after saying gay people shouldn’t receive domestic violence protections, arguing that such laws are designed to protect the “sanctity of marriage.”
Hundreds of lawyers from across the state say they want the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility to investigate District Attorney Craig Northcott. His jurisdiction covers Coffee County, home to the popular summer musical festival Bonnaroo.
“We find this disturbing and unacceptable on multiple levels, the least of which being Mr. Northcott’s misunderstanding of domestic violence law in the state of Tennessee where marriage or even romantic status is not an essential element for a charge of domestic assault,” the letter states. It had more than 300 signatures from attorneys as of Thursday.
Northcott, who was elected to the eight-year term in 2014, was recorded at a Bible conference last year saying he didn’t believe in gay marriage and promised that same-sex partners wouldn’t receive protections from domestic violence laws.
In Tennessee, those convicted of domestic violence aren’t allowed to possess or buy a firearm. The state also requires anyone subject to a domestic violence protective order to surrender their guns for the length of the order.
In the recording, Northcott says those statutes were written to “recognize and protect the sanctity of marriage.” Northcott also said that he was a “good Christian man as DA” and that district attorneys have the freedom “to prosecute anything. We can choose not to prosecute anything.”
“What do I do with domestic assaults? On one hand I don’t prosecute them because I don’t recognize it as marriage. On the other hand, if I don’t prosecute them then the sinner — the immoral guy — gets less punishment. What do you do?” Northcott was recorded saying.
Northcott didn’t immediately return a message left at his office.
Tennessee, like most states, does not require individuals to be married to be charged with a domestic violence crime. Instead, the law broadly applies to not only current or former marital spouses, but also to individuals in sexual relationships, as well as people who previously or currently live together.
Roughly 1,600 same-sex domestic violence incidents were documented in the state in 2017, according to the latest annual domestic violence report from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The majority were reported as simple assault.
TBI data also shows that seven same-sex domestic violence incidents were reported last year in Coffee County, an area in middle Tennessee with a population of nearly 53,000.
Nashville attorney Sunny Eaton, who is openly gay and spearheaded the letter, says Northcott’s comments were “unacceptable.”
“He should not be district attorney if he cannot apply constitutional protections to all of the constituents in his district,” she said. “Northcott is literally saying gay people don’t deserve physical safety and that is frightening.”
Eaton said she’s also reaching out to Gov. Bill Lee’s office and the District Attorneys General Conference — which is made up all 31 DAs in Tennessee — to call out Northcott’s statements.
Northcott also faced scrutiny earlier this year when he made several anti-Islam remarks on social media.
According to screenshots of the posts, Northcott wrote in a Facebook comment that the Islam belief system is “evil, violent and against God’s truth” and that being Muslim is no different than “being part of the KKK, Aryan Nation, etc.” Northcott made the comments while responding to a Republican candidate’s post in late April.
Northcott later responded he would not resign and he would not apologize for calling out hate.