Sen. Thelma Harper called it “mean-spirited,” but state legislation to overturn Nashville’s anti-gay bias ordinance cleared its first hurdle in the Senate Monday.
The Senate State and Local Government Committee voted 6-3 for the bill, which also would forbid any other Tennessee city from enacting any new ordinances banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The committee split on party lines, with Republicans voting yes.
Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, cast her bill as an attempt to help the economy in Tennessee by prohibiting conflicting regulations in cities across the state. Metro Nashville’s ordinance banned discrimination by businesses contracting with the city, requiring vendors to have nondiscrimination policies that include gender identity and sexual orientation.
“For every city to have a different discrimination policy would hurt intrastate commerce,” Beavers said. “You’re going to have contractors who are going to have to check with each municipality when they do some work with them. A local ordinance ought to have to conform to state law when it comes to discrimination so that we have no confusion and so we can promote business in the state of Tennessee.”
Harper, D-Nashville, said Beavers’ bill was aimed at promoting gay bias, likening it to discrimination against blacks in the segregation era.
“We’ve really come a long ways in trying to make all of us feel equal,” she said. “But I guess I have to say this year I’ve seen more mean-spirited bills than I’ve seen in a long time. This bill is really about people who are different. I think we need to call it what it is. … What we are doing with this legislation, as I see it, [is] we are laying out a mandate that says if they are different, you can treat them that way. And the law will do nothing to protect you.
“It’s a mean-spirited, discriminatory bill for people who dare to be different,” she added. “And this is not something that we should be working on.”
On a voice vote, the committee refused to exclude Nashville from the state legislation. The state House voted 73-24 for the bill on April 25.