Debate turns bizarre as Republican-led legislature tries to kill Metro’s anti-bias bill

Sunday, April 17, 2011 at 10:05pm
Mike Turner 

State legislation to nullify Nashville’s new anti-gay bias ordinance is headed to the House floor for a vote as soon as this week, and both sides agree it’s almost a foregone conclusion that it will pass. 

Once the Senate adopts its own version, the legislature not only will repeal Nashville’s ordinance, but also ban any such laws in the future anywhere else in Tennessee.

The whole debate has taken on an Alice in Wonderland quality. Nashville’s progressives still were congratulating themselves for pushing the ordinance through the Metro Council when Republicans in the legislature spoiled the celebration.

The day after the council’s final vote, they started moving their bill through the legislature. They insist it’s a pro-jobs initiative — not a heavy-handed attempt to stifle gay rights. Meanwhile, conservative Christians lobby for it by claiming bizarrely that Nashville is opening the way for child molestation in public restrooms. 

In response, gay rights advocates and their political allies upbraid Republicans as the moral equivalents of the segregationists of the Civil Rights era. Behind the scenes, the American Civil Liberties Union and others are discussing whether to go to court to challenge the constitutionality of the proposed state law, and they say there are some legal grounds for believing they can succeed. 

“This is just purely a right-wing homophobic thing they’ve got going on here,” Rep. Mike Turner, D-Nashville, said of Republicans. “If the gay lifestyle is wrong, that’s between them and the Lord. If the city of Nashville wants to ban gay discrimination, that’s their business. It’s not the state’s business to tell the city not to do it.” 

Even before the Metro Council voted 21-15 for the ordinance this month — banning discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender people by companies doing business with the city — the Christian conservative Tennessee Family Action Council was promoting state legislation to stop it. The council’s leader, David Fowler, worked up two bills, and Rep. Glen Casada, R-College Grove, introduced them. 

One would have stopped cities not only from banning gay discrimination, but also from enacting their own policies on minimum wages, health care and family leave. It was a social conservative’s dream act, stamping out a litany of liberal policies before they even could be considered by any Tennessee city. 

It apparently was a bridge too far even for some conservatives in the legislature, two of whom helped defeat it by voting against it in a House subcommittee in March.

After that, Fowler decided to switch to his second, more narrowly drawn bill. That one prohibits cities from extending protections against discrimination to categories not mentioned in Tennessee’s statewide civil rights law. That law, while barring discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, religion, sex, age or national origin, does not include sexual orientation or gender identity. 

The Family Action Council put heavy pressure on lawmakers to support this bill. Targeting a Shelby County Republican who voted no on the first bill, the council sent a video to supporters suggesting that ordinances like Nashville’s somehow would open women’s restrooms to child molesters. 

In the video, a little girl walks into a women’s restroom at a public park and is followed by a sinister looking man.

“Will this be the future for Shelby County?” the video asks. “Do gender differences matter to you? They won’t if Memphis or Shelby County mandates ‘gender expression’ policies on private employers. Is that the kind of Tennessee you want?”

Since then, conservative Christians have encountered no more resistance from Republicans in House committees. Fowler said narrowing his proposal to the gay issue was the key. 

“The broader bill created a lot of confusion as to what all it was doing,” he said after one House victory. “Anytime you have a bill with three or four moving pieces and parts, it becomes harder for people to understand. So we narrowed it down to one issue. It made it simpler. People understood exactly what it did and what it didn’t do.”

Fowler defended his organization’s video, saying it did not intend to paint gays or transgender people as child molesters. If Nashville’s ordinance were allowed to stand, “you don’t know whether a person’s in [the women’s restroom] lawfully or not in there lawfully,” he said. 

“As we become a genderless society,” he added, “that’s the kind of thing that’s happening. As we become more insensitive to gender differences, it becomes easy for real sexual predators to take advantage of that situation in that kind of environment and climate. It’s not any kind of statement that those who are transgender or cross-dress are sexual predators. It’s that sexual predators will know how to take advantage of those opportunities afforded by law when the distinctions begin to get blurred with respect to who’s rightfully or not in a restroom.” 


Supporters of Nashville’s ordinance think they have a shot at overturning the state legislation in court. They point to a 1996 Supreme Court ruling — Romer v. Evans — that threw out Colorado’s anti-gay constitutional amendment. It would have repealed anti-gay discrimination ordinances in Aspen, Boulder and Denver, and prohibited the passage of any future such ordinances. 

The court ruled the amendment violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause because it singled out gay people for denial of the right to seek legal protection from discrimination. Laws may disadvantage specific groups but only if they advance what’s deemed a legitimate government interest. Depriving gay people of their rights failed to advance such a legitimate interest, the court ruled. 

What the Tennessee legislature is doing is different in only one respect — lawmakers deny they are singling out gay people but instead insist they merely are trying to prevent burdensome and confusing new business regulations from popping up around the state. 

“I think a court decision could go either way,” said Suzanna Sherry, a Vanderbilt University Law School professor of constitutional law.

Sherry pointed out that Colorado specifically prohibited municipalities from outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

“Essentially,” she said, “the state law painted a target on gays, inviting discrimination against them.”

Tennessee’s proposed state law would prohibit municipalities only from outlawing any kind of discrimination that’s not already prohibited by state law. “It thus does not single out gays,” Sherry said. 

To win their case, gay rights advocates would have to prove that Tennessee’s legislative intent and timing demonstrates the purpose is the same as Colorado’s constitutional amendment, she said.

Indeed, when they discuss Casada’s bill, Republican lawmakers seem to be reading from a script almost as if they are trying to create an indisputable record for a future court case. Their arguments that Nashville’s ordinance would hurt the economy — denounced as disingenuous and ridiculous by gay rights advocates — may be an intentional strategy to withstand a court challenge.

“We’re talking about companies that come into this state, and they want to have an equal playing field all across the state and have some predictability so that they would come to our state rather than some state that has a mishmash of different laws and business environment,” said House Republican leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga. “That’s what it’s about. It’s about economic development. It’s not about gay people.”  

45 Comments on this post:

By: richgoose on 4/17/11 at 11:00

This country is on its way to accepting and proliferating the population to be a mongrel Republic.

I think that is as it should be since the country is full of mongrels.

By: HokeyPokey on 4/18/11 at 3:02

Fowler seems to be an expert on the behavior of sexual predators.


By: Loner on 4/18/11 at 6:10

The crux of the issue , IMO, is whether or not local governments can exceed minimum federal and/or state standards of compliance in the areas of Civil and Human Rights.

If there are federal anti-bias protections in place for the GLBT class, then states and local governments must meet or exceed standards of compliance for that class of individuals. State or local laws that would bar exceeding minimum standards of compliance have little, if any precedence in US law, to my knowledge.

If this eventually goes to court, this aspect of the argument should be included in Metros overall strategy....IMHO.

As for David Fowler, the Judeo-Christian theocrat, you gotta hand it to him, he is one very successful professional zealot. The man has spun Christ's message of tolerance, peace and goodwill into a message of intolerance, divisiveness and hate. That perversion of Christ's message to humanity is tantamount to Christian heresy, in my humble opinion.

Of course, the ever-clever Fowler tries to conceal his true intent with a dubious "pro-business" argument; as if Jesus of Nazareth was some kind of capitalist guru.

Sadly, Fowler has his followers.

By: gdiafante on 4/18/11 at 6:18

Just when you think the legislature can't be more embarrassing...

I think Tennessee is really just a reality show...what happens when lobbyists take homeless morons, dress them in expensive suits and have them play legislators...

By: Captain Nemo on 4/18/11 at 6:27

The fringe right wing is set on twisting people to do their will, no matter if it turns the state into totalitarianism, Come to think of it, that is what they are doing.

By: The Commander on 4/18/11 at 6:29

In his former role as TN State Senator, Fowler was an unindicted conspirator in the Tennessee Waltz investigation. He claimed he put the money the FBI informant gave him into his campaign account. The money only showed up in his campaign records after the investigation went public. Fowler didn't run for re-election the next time for some reason.
Another example of "ex-post facto" actions that will doom the legislatures actions to tokenism and the usual pandering as the TN courts will strike it down as unconstitutional for passing an ex-post facto action.

By: treehugger7 on 4/18/11 at 6:33

Again, I am SO glad the legislature is focusing on jobs! Keep your legislative noses out of Nashville's government. If you aren't going to focus on jobs, shut up!

By: Moonglow1 on 4/18/11 at 6:48

Moonglow1: check out the American Legislative Exchange Council. We need to find out if Casada & other Republican legislators are members. The comment in this article concerning "Republicans reading from a script" is true. This organization is comprised of many state legislators & members of Congress. The problem is the ALEC has a very sinister agenda. It is funded by energy (the Koch's, BP, Exxon), big pharma, & financial companies. Their sole goal is to protect the profits of big business by spouting nonsense like climate change & anti gay bias. They work to move American culture as far to the right as possible hence the major push to get this bill overturned. Not only this bill, but any similar bill from ever being introduced. Has our city been taken over by fascist dictators. How is this freedom? Can laws be overturned any time these theo tea nuts don't agree with them. Come on Mayor Dean: fight these theo-tea-nuts now. This has nothing to do with jobs, but everything to do with the national agenda of this well financed & well funded group who are controlling our lawmakers. They care nothing about religion, but care most about gaining more control. By making billions they can continue to "dictate" values. This my friends is not the USA.

By: Loner on 4/18/11 at 6:58

Thanks for the tip about Fowler's waltzing abilities, Commander...I suppose that Jesus of Nazareth was a good dancer too.

Ex post facto indeed.

By: treehugger7 on 4/18/11 at 7:00

Moonglow, thanks for the info on ALEC--scary stuff. I feel like I need to wash my browser!

By: Loner on 4/18/11 at 7:01

The feds indicted Fowler, then he "retired" hoc ergo propter hoc?

By: PhiDelt496 on 4/18/11 at 7:05

I think I have said my peace about this legislation so I will spare you all that again. So today, I will comment on the jobs situation since it gets brought up as what should be the focus of the legislature.

I spoke with a Director Level employee at Department of Labor and Workforce Development about 18 months ago, when the job crisis was at its peak, and he made this comment. "Unemployement is at about 11% now, and if we stopped paying people not to work, it would drop by 3% in two months. The jobs are there, but people make more money from unemployment than they will working at the new jobs."

Ever since I have realized that there is not a jobs crisis, there is an entitlement crisis. I personally changed jobs in 2008, and again in 2010. Both of my own doing, and made vertical moves both times. I know that my experience is isolated, but still, there are jobs out there. People may just have to make concessions to accept them.

By: on 4/18/11 at 7:07

Surely these state legislators can figure out a more productive use of their time. This stupid legislation will NOT: improve the educational system, make Tennesseans healthier, help reduce crime and recidivism. It will NOT put food on the table of hungry people or help find homes for the homeless. So why don't they spend time on doing the things that really matter? It is probably good that the Tennessee General Assembly is only a part-time body. Just think of the absurd things they could address if they were in session all year.

By: Moonglow1 on 4/18/11 at 7:23

Moonglow1: PhiDelt. Under the Bush administration we lost millions of manufacturing jobs. And coupled with Wall St. & the home crisis people are hurting. Where are all of these great jobs people are talking about. Mike Dell took his Dell computers to China & got the tax breaks from the US govt to do so. As for paying bills on unemployment benefits give me a break: how much does unemployment pay? A couple hundred a week. Oh wow!! How would that make a rent or house payment. All over the nation jobs have been cut. Our nation is dying. While the tea nuts have the population in a fervor over guns & gays they are working tirelessly on outsourcing jobs because the tea people are actually employed in power as politicians to carry out the agenda of these corporations. Today is tax day & how much is GE paying today or Michael Dell. If you are worried about your tax burden now wait until someone has to pay for the health care costs of our vets who are coming back with severe disabilities. Do you know many of them are homeless or in prison. There are no jobs waiting for them. Read up & you will figure it out.

By: Radix on 4/18/11 at 7:23

LMAO @moonglow. Big Oil, Big pharma and "wall street" all in evil conspiracy with the Koch's to try to make a profit. How evil.

I hope they do because most of those companies are in my dear mother's IRA, and I have friends employed by some as well. They must be fascist too.

Look if you want socialism so badly, go to a country that has it and see how they feel about your individual liberties.

By: Loner on 4/18/11 at 7:25

Let's see, the feds snared several corrupt politicians in Operation Tennessee Waltz....I suppose their next sting operation in the Volunteer State will be code-named "Tennessee Stud"?

By: Radix on 4/18/11 at 7:34

Moonglow. Dell went to China for one reason: cheap labor. The tax breaks they got to do so are messed up. That's what Paul Ryan has been addressing. Closing loopholes.

By: Loner on 4/18/11 at 7:35

PhiDelt tells a story about his recent conversation with a "Director Level employee at Department of Labor and Workforce Development".

Wait a minute, I thought that those tax-sucking bureaucrats had little if any credibility.

I'm surprised that PhiDelt would value the personal opinion of a highly-paid, under-worked bureaucrat whose own livelihood depends upon sustained unemployment.

Moonglow, thanks for the tip on ALEC. They are a vital part of the War Lobby consortium.

By: Moonglow1 on 4/18/11 at 7:35

Moonglow1: Treehugger-the ALEC is very frightening. I think that most people don't believe that this national effort by this group is real, but when you see the same things happening in every state & at the national level it is all too real. I am serious: I believe many in TN are members & working on behalf of the ALEC agenda. Otherwise why are these people fighting so hard to overturn a law already voted in by the people and signed into law by our Mayor. It is a symbolic loss to the theo-nuts & they want to control you. They are elected to carry out the wishes of their financial benefactors.

By: Captain Nemo on 4/18/11 at 7:41

If unemployment pays more that a full time 40 hour week, it would pay to stay unemployed.

PhiDelt465 please show us a link to back up your post.

By: treehugger7 on 4/18/11 at 7:46

I believe it! It's scary and unamerican, but it's real. We sane people must resist at every turn. To have a possible Palin/Trump (or Trump/Palin--I'm sure he'd insist on top billing) ticket is one of the scariest things I ever heard. I still do not understand how Palin can be considered a presidential candidate. Talk about dumbing down the government! Well, the upside is that if elected, she would quit!

By: Loner on 4/18/11 at 7:51

ALEC claims to be a champion of States Rights, especially as outlined in the Tenth Amendment. Is this a closet secessionist group? The ambitious ALEC agenda is posted on their site:

ALEC proudly claims to be "Jeffersonian" in nature. Jeffersonian? They appear to be fans of Jefferson Davis, not Thomas Jefferson.

By: Captain Nemo on 4/18/11 at 7:58

Nice bunch of anti-Americans they are. Thanks Loner for the link.

By: Captain Nemo on 4/18/11 at 8:03

If yogi had the brains of a roster he would know that he had nothing to crow about.

By: PhiDelt496 on 4/18/11 at 8:04

There is no link. It was a private conversation. And without a source, you can take it for what its worth. I agree, as "high and mighty" as I tend to view myself sometimes. If I were unemployed, I would not take a job that paid less than unemployment out of a sense of "social duty". If my benefits ran out and I am left with zero income, I would have no choice. The problem is that congress keeps extending benefits, and in return keeps extending the job crisis.

Also, you keep fussing about corporations paying no tax, but when companies of any size are taxed, who do you think pays it? The consumer does! So taxing corporations is a futile endeavour since any company has to count taxes as an expense and must adjust prices accordingly.

Manufacturing Jobs are not what we want to continue to base the economy on. Increasing development in technology and robotics are killing manufacturing jobs quicker than they can be outsourced. Look at the VW plant in Chattanooga. At its peak it is only planned to have 1500-2000 workers. A plant that size 10 years ago would have 3-4 times that number of line workers. Gone are the days where you make 80k a year driving a towmotor in a union auto plant. That kind of compensation is not sustainable and we are realizing that now.

You guys draw the "tea party" card like a gun. And the Koch brothers are no worse than George Soros. They all have money and an agenda and want to push it on others. And the Tea Party is as much of a Democratic invention as anything, had the Dems not tried to push the social agenda, the Tea Party might never have come about.

By: Loner on 4/18/11 at 8:12

Money for nuthin'...and the checks for free....that's the way to do it.....corporate welfare good - personal welfare's all so simple.

By: Loner on 4/18/11 at 8:31

I appreciate your self-humbling response, PhiDelt.

I would credit the Bush-Cheney regime with setting the stage for the Tea Party. They were in the wheelhouse when the ship-o-state hit the rocks on September 15th, 2008.

The frantic cries of an hysterical TV CNN reporter have been cited as the impetus for the TP movement.

Here's snippet:

CNBC's Rick Santelli is widely credited with launching the grassroots movement. While standing on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on February 19, 2009, he unleashed what can only be called a rant against the Obama Administration's proposal to help homeowners facing foreclosure refinance their mortgages.

Read more: History of the Tea Party Movement —

Panicky and unprofessionally emotional, Mr. Santelli failed to associate the original cause with the observed effect; like those of the Tea Party faithful, his opinion was based upon fear, faulty logic and flawed premises.

By: Ingleweird on 4/18/11 at 8:42

"The Jeffersons" was a fictitious TV family, so does that mean when ALEC refers to its "Jeffersonian principles," they really mean "fictitious principles?"

Screw your dear mother and her IRA; I hope they gamble away her life savings. Conspiracy? What me worry?

By: PhiDelt496 on 4/18/11 at 8:43

The Tea Party is a great Idea with terrible execution and timing. Also, as is always the case, to put a great idea into reality you have to make so many concessions to get recognition that your original idea or message gets watered down and abused. Look at Greenpeace or MADD. Both organizations that were great ideas by very smart people, but were taken over by people with political agendas and the founders have dissassociated themselves with the groups.

By: PhiDelt496 on 4/18/11 at 8:46

Here are my sources Captain Nemo

By: trtay2004 on 4/18/11 at 9:21

State government is overriding local governments rights, but when the federal government tries to override state governments, it's unAmerican. Come on Tennessee.... smarten up!

By: Captain Nemo on 4/18/11 at 9:30

I have used that argument before trtay2004, but it seems to fall on deaf right ears. (Pun intended) It must be how the Tea Party cherry picks its way to conclusions.

By: HokeyPokey on 4/18/11 at 9:49

ALEC is also behind several states' (including ours) push for photo voter ID.


By: PhiDelt496 on 4/18/11 at 10:40

Why is Photo ID for voting a bad thing? Voter Fraud disenfranchises thousands of voters rights. Requiring Voter ID helps curb that. We should all be for anything that will help keep felons and dead people from voting. That works both ways, it really isnt favorable for one party or another, unless one party is cheating.

The whole thing back in 2004 about republicans putting flyers on car windsheilds in Florida about how you will be arrested if you have outstanding warrants and try to vote. It was stupid in practice, but isnt a bad idea. If you are a fugitive from justice, should you be allowed to vote? I dont know the answer to this, but If you are incarcirated (sp?) for a non-felony crime, are you currently allowed to vote in jail?

By: gdiafante on 4/18/11 at 11:35

Fake ID's are a dime a dozen. Ask any teenager. And where is this wide-spread voter fraud that has supposedly bogged down the system?

No, this is all about the photo. If that isn't clear enough I'll's the precursor to a national ID. It has more to do with immigration than voter fraud.

By: pswindle on 4/18/11 at 11:52

TN Legislative GOP has the IQ of the chrisitan bigot.

By: PhiDelt496 on 4/18/11 at 1:03

Enough info there to open discussion about fixing the system. Also, the bill as it is written allows for someone without a photo ID or means to obtain one to still vote. So I dont see how this is a major issue.

A very wise person once told me that "everyone thinks that congress is full of idiots, crooks, and liars. Except their guy. There guy is always the only good one. That is why we continue to have a Congress full of idiots, crooks, and liars."

By: gdiafante on 4/18/11 at 1:15

If it allows someone to still vote without an ID, then why the hell even bother?

Yep, still a pretty stupid idea. But hey, It's TN...what else would you expect?

By: gdiafante on 4/18/11 at 1:25

Is that site really supposed to indicate wide-spread voter fraud? Laughable...

Here are some highlights...

10/23/08 three voters complain of voting machine switching votes.

9/28/08 residents in forecloser don't have to worry about new address preventing them from casting votes.

10/07/08 confusion regarding felons voting and worries that only two counties have voting machines that produce a paper record.

10/24/08 ACORN-ilke problems...warnings about people who don't speak English (not required to vote) voting.

Only TWO of those would even apply as the others don't really involve something that an ID would/could fix. Not to mention the date of these problems...and one supports my point that it's really about immigration.

By: PhiDelt496 on 4/18/11 at 2:18

What is it about immigration? The fact that they want to stop illegal immigration? I want that stopped too. I do think that we should open the books to some degree, but I dont want them just walking across the border. I dont have an issue with the Hispanic culture or people (there are few places as beautiful as New Mexico particularly at a local Mass). But with the good people crossing the borders for work and better opportunities, the criminals come as well. Make your case for it being about immigration and how it is a precursor to a "national ID card". We already have Social Security cards, Males over 18 have to provide Selective Service Registration, why is this the precursor to National ID card. If dont want to get one, dont vote. Not a problem.

Also, I never said that it indicated "widespread voter fraud", I simply said that there were enough instances to open discussion of the topic. Why is trying to prevent voter fraud an issue? Just because the GOP came up with it?

By: HokeyPokey on 4/18/11 at 3:40

There's a "New" Mexico!?!?!?

Isn't one enough?


By: Karl_Warden on 4/19/11 at 6:10

I am befuddled about how this bill is going to help Tennessee businesses. At worst, the Nashville legislation would require businesses to put policies in place that ban discrimination.

I say at worst, because there is really no business advantage to discriminating against someone; anyone. If a person is qualified for the job and works, they advance the business. If someone is not qualified, they will not advance the business. The thing is, there are few, if any, businesses out there where being gay or lesbian has anything to do with the job. That being the case, discrimination would only serve to harm a business by rejecting otherwise qualified job candidates for reasons unconnected to the job to be filled.

So, the State legislation is defending a bastion that needs no defense. A bastion that might actually harm Tennessee businesses.

Which leaves the real reason for the legislation. Religious based discrimination against gays and lesbians. Given that, why aren't they up front about it? Are they ashamed? Do they believe it might be unconstitutional? Have they forgotten the good old American value of honesty? Or, do they believe lying is OK as long as it is for a good cause of hating people who are different?

By: pswindle on 4/19/11 at 8:19

Are there no gay republicans? What has happened to equal rights for all? If this is the best that the republicans can do, we need to replace them as soon as possible.
If they rule as long as the democrats ruled the state, we as citizens will have all of our rights taken away, and we will be ruled by the State of the Church.

By: LizzyD on 4/19/11 at 8:23

"Or, do they believe lying is OK as long as it is for a good cause of hating people who are different?"

YES, they do. They also believe in rendering people homeless, allowing people to starve and thirst to death, and in murdering people who do not conform. They are an unholy alliance of Dominionist Christians and Corporate fascists. ALEC is one of the major coordinators of their mutual messaging/propaganda.

Beware the Jabberwocky!
Things are very seldom what they seem to be.

By: LFCRed on 4/19/11 at 11:53

Repub's are simply bizarre in nature - they completely turn their back on science, focus their time & energy on deliberately mindless divisive issues, while ignoring the citizens that actually need help attaining a decent education, jobs & better lives...

"Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy." Benjamin Franklin