Showdown brewing over Tennessee anti-gay law

Gay legal activists are already working on a legal challenge to a new state law in Tennessee, signed into law Monday by Republican Governor Bill Haslam, which prevents local governments from requiring their contractors to abide by local human rights ordinances.

Gay legal activists are already working on a legal challenge to a new state law in Tennessee, signed into law Monday by Republican Governor Bill Haslam, which prevents local governments from requiring their contractors to abide by local human rights ordinances.

The legislation, entitled the “Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act,” was aimed at undermining a new Nashville metro area ordinance, signed into law in April. The ordinance prohibited city contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It was passed by the Nashville/Davidson County Metro Council.

Abby Rubenfeld, a Nashville attorney and a former legal director of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, said Tuesday that the new state law will “definitely be challenged—we are working on it right now.”

Governor Haslam, who took office January 15, pitched his support for the law as a pro-business act, saying it relieved businesses of the necessity of navigating differing non-discrimination regulations from city to city. The Family Action Council of Tennessee argued that it does not target LGBT people, and noted that the law does not affect the Nashville Metropolitan Government ordinance prohibiting discrimination by the government against LGBT people.

But no attempt was made prior to passage of the Nashville ordinance to relieve businesses affected by a Nashville ordinance that prohibited contractors from discriminating based on age, race, sex, or disability.

Greg Nevins of Lambda Legal’s Atlanta office said Lambda is not involved in mounting a legal challenge against the Tennessee law, but he called it “a terrible piece of legislation.”

The Human Rights Campaign said Haslam was trying to score “cheap political points” by giving a “green light” to anti-LGBT discrimination. HRC noted that a number of large corporations—including FedEx, AT&T, Comcast, and the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce—opposed the new state law.

FedEx issued a statement May 20 saying it “values and promotes the unique contributions, perspectives, and differences” of all its employees and is “committed to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.”

State Rep. Glen Casada, a Republican from nearby Williamson County, introduced the “Equal Access” bill after the Nashville Metro Council passed a law requiring city contractors to sign an affidavit promising not to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Specifically, the bill prohibits local ordinances from having non-discrimination laws broader than that of the state. According to Lambda Legal, Tennessee has no statewide laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in either public or private employment.

Casada told local television NewsChannel 5 that the Nashville ordinance amounted to having the city “dictating moral policy.”

Another anti-gay bill—one that sought to prohibit teachers from providing any information about homosexuality to public school students in grades K through 8—passed the Tennessee Senate 19 to 11 on May 20 but did not get a vote in the House before the General Assembly adjourned May 21. The original bill—dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay Bill”—was amended to limit sex education curricula “to natural reproduction science.”

The Tennessee Equality Project said the bill “remains a threat to safe schools for all students in Tennessee,” even though the bill no longer references homosexuality specifically.

6 thoughts on “Showdown brewing over Tennessee anti-gay law”

  1. This seems to be exactly the same law passed by voters in Colorado in 1992, called Amendment 2. The Supreme Court of the U.S. struck down Amendment 2. It is unconstitutional to single out one group and force them to jump higher hurdles than everyone else in their efforts to seek equality. I hope someone (city of Nashville) is ready to take this to court immediately, and shame the legislature and governor of Tennessee for their shameful discrimination.

  2. When you hit these religious bigots in their pocketbooks, their hearts and minds will follow.

    Tenn – still fighting the civil war, only with a new victim. group

  3. Can anyone give a non-laughable definition of “natural reproduction science”?

    More of the vile hate and bigotry from the wave of rightwing nutjobs. The kids parents kick him out, that is truly despicable, sign of religion at work.

  4. If the intent was to make a uniform law across all of TN, as the backers of HB600 have claimed, then why not pass a state law protecting LGBT employees? Wouldn’t that have the same outcome (a uniform law across TN)? Why legislate discrimination?

    While HB600 is targeted at the GLBT community, other groups WILL be affected too.

    Swift action to overturn this form of discrimination can reverse some of the affects of the damage done in TN. However, I fear that the elected officials and those who voted for them won’t move fast enough or loud enough. Maybe the businesses of TN will realize the damage HB600 will do to them and the reputation of TN and act quickly and reverse HB600 and send a powerful message that discrimination is not acceptable and that a small group of right wing politicians and business “leaders” will not hold the great volunteer state hostage and tarnish a welcoming reputation and business climate.

    Good luck to Abby Rubenfield, who will be taking HB600 to court.

  5. How many businesses were going under because of the “costs” of compliance? None. Protecting the poor businesses? Please! This is a license to discriminate and a total sham. The fact that they are trying to pass off this junk as economics is just laughable and insulting. If we followed their logic, we would throw out compliance with all sorts of local laws. I’m talking about construction codes, permits, taxes, etc. In fact, of all the local laws one could attack, I’m confident that a non-discrimination ordinance in a few cities is LESS costly on average than most local ordinances.

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