2 Anti-Gay Measures Advance in Tenn.
Taking Aim at Anti-Discrimination Ordinances
A second anti-gay bill was advanced by the Tennessee legislature, this one seeking to strip local governments of the power to enact GLBT-inclusive anti-discrimination laws. The move was decried by the Human Rights Campaign in a May 19 news release.
Noting that the bill "prohibits cities and counties from banning discriminatory practices by any means," the release called for Gov. Bill Haslam to veto the legislation.
"Limiting the rights and protections cities and counties can provide their own citizens is fundamentally unjust," Joe Solmonese, head of the HRC, said.
"We are extremely disappointed that the Tennessee Legislature is once again writing discrimination into our state laws," HRC board member Billy Leslie, who is from Nashville. "By removing local governments’ ability to decide what is best for their communities, state lawmakers have acted arrogantly and gone against the principles of self governance upon which our country was founded. We strongly urge the governor to veto this legislation."
"While the bill prohibits localities from adopting anti-discrimination laws on any basis, including race, religion, sex and age, it was motivated by an ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in Nashville," the HRC release noted. "Because legislators took action based on their desire to limit the rights of a particular group--the LGBT community--the bill, if signed into law, will be vulnerable to legal challenges costing the state precious resources during tight economic times."
The bill stipulates that city and county governments cannot offer anti-discrimination protections that are more comprehensive than those enshrined are in state law. Tennessee state law does not protect Tennessee residents based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
State Rep. Glen Casada claimed that the bill--given the name the Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act--was intended to create a consistent set of rules for employers across the state. The bill’s approval by the House comes in the wake of Nashville implementing protections that specify that businesses winning city contracts may not discriminate against GLBT workers.
Not everyone in the State House subscribed to Casada’s explanation.
"We want to say that it’s OK to discriminate on sexual identification and gender," State Rep. Jeanne Richardson, a Memphis Democrat, said. "Everybody sitting in this room knows what this bill is about."
Another lawmaker challenged the law as being too much of an intrusion by the state on local governments.
"You’re telling them that, basically, they have to discriminate against people," State Rep. Sherry Jones, also a Nashville Democrat, told the chamber. "You’re trying to go back and retroactively change the law that my city has determined is good for them."
The bill is similar to one that was proposed in Montana by State Rep. Kristine Hanson, a Republican. The bill would have eliminated the right of local governments to extend anti-discrimination protections to GLBTs.
An argument similar to the one offered in Tennessee was given voice in support of the bill by Montana State Rep. Michael Morre, who said, "You introduce things in one city, you can do things differently in another city, you can things in another town differently from that. If that is what you want, if you want to go down the road that can ultimately lead to one place then sure, let’s not pass this ordinance.
"But we need, this is what we do in here, we try to put things into the context of the whole," added Morre.
Neither Tennessee nor Montana proposed laws that would force local governments into strict conformity with any other state laws.
"Currently, more than 135 cities and counties have passed ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, with more than one-sixth of those cities and counties located in southern states," the HRC release noted.