The new Tennessee law applies to all cities but its immediate impact is felt on Nashville, which had passed an ordinance in April that opponents said was anti-business and anti-religious liberty. The ordinance applied to any business that had a contract with the city. A court challenge to the new law is possible.
Southern Baptist leaders Richard Land and Frank Page, along with Tennessee Baptist Convention Executive Director Randy Davis, had urged Haslam to sign the bill, which passed the state House 70-26 and the state Senate 21-8. The bill prevents localities from adopting nondiscrimination policies not in line with state law.
The legislation was needed, supporters said, to ensure the uniform application of the state's nondiscrimination laws, thereby protecting employers from having to deal with a variety of municipal policies.
"Through the legislative process," Haslam spokesman David Smith told The Tennessean, "he expressed concerns about the state telling local governments what to do, but he also had concerns about local governments telling businesses what to do, especially the potential burden on small businesses. Ultimately, he felt the Metro ordinance went farther than federal law in regulating business policies."
For Christian leaders, the primary concern was religious liberty. In a letter to Haslam, the three Baptist leaders argued that without Haslam's signature, the constitutional rights of Christian business owners "may be infringed by expansive local non-discrimination laws."
"It is the conviction of many that elevating 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity' as a protective class is wrong," their letter read. "... There is no evidence to dictate equating homosexual behavior with immutable distinctiveness. To do so mitigates the value of inalienable rights and trivializes the effort of those who seek to protect them."
The Tennessee Equality Project, a homosexual group, said the new law "encourages discrimination, restricts the power of every city and county to determine how to use its own tax dollars in government contracting and nullifies a Metro non-discrimination ordinance that was backed by over 70 Nashville congregations, businesses and community organizations," The Tennessean reported.
David Fowler, president of the Family Action of Tennessee, applauded Haslam.
"Ultimately the Governor understood what a bi-partisan, two-thirds majority of the House and Senate understood -- that every local government should not be able to dictate a businesses' internal personnel policies," Fowler said in a statement. "This first in the nation law effectively puts to rest the possibility that businesses will have to worry facing inconsistent demands as they grow their businesses across the state."
"Sexual orientation" can encompass homosexuality and bisexuality, as well as transgender status, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the country's largest homosexual organization, while "gender identity" is a term that "refers to a person's innate, deeply felt psychological identification as male or female, which may or may not correspond to the person's body or designated sex at birth."
Some opponents of the Nashville ordinance say it could lead to men using women's restrooms. The concern over restrooms is that "gender identity" in the ordinance could mean a man who inwardly identifies as a female will have legal protection to enter a women's restroom.
Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press. The Southern Baptist Convention has a ministry to homosexuals. Find more information at http://www.sbcthewayout.com.
Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net