A razor-close vote is expected Tuesday night when the Metro Council considers a nondiscrimination bill that would require companies contracting with the city to include employment protections for gay, lesbian and transgender workers.
Mayor Karl Dean has said the proposal “makes sense” and that he would be sign the bill into law if it clears the council. But the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce has expressed concern with the ordinance and is pushing for its deferral.
Two council committees Monday weighed in on the controversial ordinance, which would extend the same nondiscrimination policy that pertains to Metro workers to companies that do business with the city. The council’s Budget and Finance Committee vote breakdown went six for the bill, six against, with one abstention. The council’s Personnel Committee voted 5-3 to recommend an indefinite deferral of the bill.
Though both are non-binding votes, the committee discourse did provide a sign of things to come when the 40-member body discusses the ordinance Tuesday. The bill is up for the council’s second of three votes.
“This class has endured decades, if not millennia, of discrimination,” said Councilman Mike Jameson, one of the bill’s three sponsors “And I know that. And I know also that this is a category that they do not choose.
“This is a class of people that needs to be heard,” he said.
Jameson’s remarks were part of a spirited exchange with Councilman Phil Claiborne, who took exception with the bill singling out “sexual orientation and gender identity.” Claiborne indicated he would be more open to a bill that would prohibit discrimination for any “non-merit” based reasons, which he coined a “blanket policy.”
“If we’re talking about discrimination, then why don’t we address everybody?” Claiborne asked. “Why do we call out one group?”
A similar “non-merit’ bill was introduced in 2009 before the council ultimately voted to update the government’s nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The 2009 law applies only to government workers.
Councilman Jim Hodge, who voted against the nondiscrimination bill two years ago, called the latest proposal “unconscionable and unnecessary.”
“We’re a public body,” Hodge said. “We have no business going where this bill goes.”
But Councilman Jamie Hollin, another bill sponsor, framed the issue this way:
“Imagine if everybody in this council were gay,” Hollin said. “Each person sitting here, being gay, would we allow the expenditure of our tax dollars to go to a company discriminating people for being gay? I submit to you that we would stand up on the mountain top and raise hell and say, ‘No.’ The fact that we’re not gay doesn’t change that.”
Working in the backdrop is a state bill, filed by Republican Rep. Glen Casada, that seeks to prevent local municipalities, including Metro, from adopting nondiscrimination measures that affect the private sector.
Some council members indicated concern over the impact of the pending state legislation. Councilman Rip Ryman made a motion to defer a vote on the ordnance until June to wait until the state takes action. His motion failed.
“If the state passes their bill, which negates whatever we pass here ... I can’t see why we would pass something knowing that it’s very, very possible that could happen in the state,” Ryman said.
The council bill has been met with criticism from Christian right organizations. During Monday's committee meetings, David Fowler, head of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, registered as a lobbyist at the council office. Fowler confirmed his registration was in preparation for Tuesday's vote on the nondiscrimination bill.