Companies that contract with Metro government will soon have to include employment protections for gay, lesbian and transgender workers.
The Metro Council gave final approval Tuesday night of a controversial ordinance requiring Metro vendors to write “sexual orientation and gender identity” into their nondiscrimination policies. The third-reading vote went 21-15, with three abstentions, a narrow margin, but nonetheless a major legislative victory for the city’s progressives.
“This is a great move for Nashville,” said Metro Councilwoman Erica Gilmore, one of the bill’s sponsors. “This is a great step to show that we really believe in equality.”
The legislation now heads to Mayor Karl Dean, who has said the new policy “makes sense” and that he would sign it into law. Hundreds of other municipalities nationwide have similar policies concerning the employment standards of contractors.
A few conservative council members Tuesday launched some last-minute attacks on the bill, but to no avail. It mirrored the debate weeks ago when the council approved the ordinance on second reading by a 21-17 vote.
“We are sending a clear message to those who would do business with this city that we don’t want you, we don’t want your product, we don’t want your service, if you don’t adopt our moral standards,” Councilman Phil Claiborne said. “That’s not right.”
Prior to the vote, Councilman Jim Gotto told council members he knows one contractor who would end his business with the city with the new law. Councilman Jim Hodge went so far as to call the nondiscrimination policy “unconstitutional.”
But those worries didn’t carry enough weight Tuesday, nor did several attempts to defeat the bill outside the council chambers.
Christian right organizations such as the Family Action Council of Tennessee had lobbied fiercely to defeat the bill, arguing it would force the private sector to adhere to a “lifestyle” some businesses don’t approve. Family Action Council leader David Fowler attended Tuesday’s meeting wearing a sticker with a stick-figure man and woman holding hands.
Meanwhile, Republican state Rep. Glen Casada of Williamson County had introduced a state bill that, among other things, sought to thwart the council’s nondiscrimination endeavor. Casada’s bill never mustered momentum in the General Assembly and has since stalled.
The newly adopted nondiscrimination ordinance, an extension of the same policy that applies to Metro government workers, was originally introduced by Councilmen Jamie Hollin and Mike Jameson in the aftermath of the controversy surrounding former Belmont University women’s soccer coach Lisa Howe. Howe’s supporters contended the coach was forced to step down after she revealed to her team that she and her same-sex partner planned to have a child.
In other business, the council approved on the first of three votes a redistricting map that would reestablish Davidson County's 35 Metro Council district boundaries just four months before the city's Aug. 4 election.
In doing so, the council has also decided to expedite the process to aid prospective candidates, creating a special council meeting this Thursday, April 7, and next Tuesday, April 12, to consider the map on second and third readings, respectively. Both meetings begin at 6 p.m. The deadline for candidates to file papers is May 19.
The Metro Planning Commission approved the map last week.