Over the protests of lawmakers from Nashville, the Republican-run state House Commerce Committee adopted legislation Tuesday to nullify the city’s new antidiscrimination ordinance protecting gays.
Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, tried to kill the bill by amending it to exclude Nashville. But the committee voted 21-7 to table her proposal, then approved the bill on a voice vote.
The legislation would bar all Tennessee cities from enacting their own policies against gay, lesbian and transgender discrimination. The bill’s supporters said they want to prevent burdensome and confusing new business regulations from popping up all over the state.
“I could see where — and I’ll take hypotheticals — one town says you got to hire a Baptist that has two children, the other town says you got to have someone that has red hair,” Rep. Glen Casada, R-College Grove, told the committee. “I could see just a whole plethora of convoluted and ill-advised laws in each town to appease their particular constituency group, and it would just be chaos to try to do business in those towns.”
Gilmore said Casada’s real motive is to perpetuate discrimination against gays in the workplace. The Metro ordinance, signed into law on Friday by Mayor Karl Dean, extends protections against workplace discrimination to gays, lesbians and transgender people working at businesses contracting with the city government. Specifically, the law requires those vendors doing business with Metro have in their nondiscrimination policies references to sexual orientation and gender identity.
“This legislation is really trying to make a business argument to defend discrimination,” Gilmore said. “I want Nashville to be known as a city of equal opportunity based on talent, performance and behavior when it comes to taxpayer-funded jobs. Ninety-four percent of Fortune 100 companies already have similar policies. When you look across the United States, 181 cities and counties have this antidiscrimination policy, and there has not been chaos in those cities. Over one half of the states in the United States have this policy.”
Gilmore’s daughter, the Metro Council member Erica Gilmore, was one sponsor of the antidiscrimination ordinance, and she defended the law in her own testimony before the committee.
“This is the first time we’ve heard that different local standards are a burden to business, and we are confused as to why this is coming up now,” she said.