After a testy debate in which Democrats accused Republicans of homophobia, the state House voted overwhelmingly Monday night to nullify Nashville’s new anti-gay bias ordinance and to ban any such laws in the future in any other Tennessee city.
The bill’s supporters insisted it’s a pro-jobs initiative — and not a heavy-handed attempt to stifle gay rights. They argued it’s an unfair burden on businesses to require those contracting with the city to agree not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Rep. Glen Casada, R-College Grove, said he also brought his bill because he is upset that the Metro Council acted in response to the controversy over lesbian soccer coach Lisa Howe’s exit from Belmont University.
“That is very hard-hearted and callous to tell businessmen they cannot do business with the city of Nashville,” Casada told the House, which voted 73-24 for his bill. “This bill is about creating jobs and making things homogeneous across the state. This flippant attitude of ‘Well, you comply with my morality or you won’t do business with my city’ — that’s the reason I’m bringing this bill.”
Nashville Democratic Reps. Brenda Gilmore, Mike Turner, Mike Stewart and Sherry Jones all spoke out against the bill. They said it tramples on Nashville’s right to govern itself. Jones told Casada his bill tells cities that “basically they should discriminate against people.”
“I can tell you that the mayor and the council can handle their own business,” Jones said. “People don’t have to bid on Metro contracts if they don’t want to do that. That’s certainly their choice. This has nothing to do with commerce across the state. Let’s not each of us nitpick at cities and the way they want to do things.”
Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, called the bill “anti-gay” and castigated Casada and the Republicans as deceitful for pretending it is about jobs.
“Discrimination against gay people about jobs is wrong. I personally strongly feel it’s wrong. … We want to say in our state to the gay community all over this state that it’s OK to discriminate on sexual identity and gender identification. That’s what we’re saying. Let’s all be honest in this room. Everybody sitting in here knows that’s what this is about. You know, representative,” Richardson told Casada.
“I think there’s nothing homogeneous about this bill. But I think there’s a lot that’s homophobic about this bill.”
Casada replied, “It’s not homophobic, although I am deeply disturbed,” that the Metro Council “would jump on this small Christian school of Belmont and attempt to inflict their morality on this small Christian school.”
The bill, which has yet to begin moving in the Senate, 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, gender, age or national origin, does not include sexual orientation or gender identity.