NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Nashville’s latest sexual orientation proposal narrowly survived its first step March 18 and provided some drama as both sides debated homosexuality’s relation to slavery, religion and the public school system.
The proposal passed the metro council 17-16 on its first reading — enough to send it along but short of the votes it will ultimately need to become law. The bill must pass twice more, and on the third reading must garner 21 of the council’s 40 votes. Seven members either abstained or missed the politically charged vote March 18.
The bill would prohibit employment discrimination based on “sexual orientation” within the metro government, which includes the public school system.
“We’ve gained ground,” one of the bill’s opponents, Carolyn Baldwin Tucker, told Baptist Press after the vote. “We know where people are and where people stand. We’ll be able to identify what we need to do.”
One of the bill’s cosponsors, Chris Ferrell, admitted there will be some arm-twisting in the coming weeks.
“There were a couple of people missing, and there were several people who abstained on this vote,” he told BP. “We’ll have to talk to them about where they come down on it.”
Public seating within the chamber was at capacity, with opponents and supporters split evenly. Most of the opponents were members of area churches.
After the vote, Ferrell and cosponsor Eileen Beehan received supportive handshakes from homosexual-rights backers. Tucker and several other council members received words of encouragement from opponents. One lady shook Tucker’s hand and said, in reference to the homosexual-rights movement, “This is the main reason I will not put my kids in a city school.”
Debate within the council chamber lasted about 30 minutes, yet the fact that it was debated at all was noteworthy. Bills on first reading are normally passed on a voice vote — usually, a formality — and sent to a committee. But Tucker and opponents decided to oppose a voice vote, thus forcing a roll call vote.
A comparison between homosexuality and race drew a sharp contrast between the two sides. Beehan referenced the debate over slavery from the nation’s founding, pointing out that while the Quakers opposed slavery, it took another century for it to be abolished.
“I really don’t want it to take that long for us to see employment as something that we want to set a standard for in metro Nashville,” she said.
But the reference to slavery upset Tucker, who is African American.
“Sexual orientation is not a civil right, and it should not in any way ever be compared to slavery,” she said, drawing applause. “It is not an immutable characteristic.”
Homosexuality is a “choice,” Tucker added. “It is a choice and should not be confused with race or sex, which occur at birth,” she said. “When a child is born in a hospital, the doctors do not hold the child up and say, ‘We have a sexually oriented person here and we will wait to see what it will declare itself to be.’ No, they say, ‘We have a boy [or] we have a girl'”
Tucker said the legislation “codifies a lifestyle, and it lifts it up before the children of Nashville as a protected class.”
The legislation would create awkward situations for children, Tucker said. For instance, a male teacher could decide that his sexual orientation requires that others call him a woman, and that he “change [his] name from Mr. Bill to Mrs. Jill,” Tucker said. “The school system would not be able to terminate or even reprimand the teacher for inappropriate behavior.” She also said that homosexual teachers would be able to display pictures of their partners on their desks.
Teachers are role models for children, Tucker said. “Think of how confusing that would be for children,” she said. “… Young children are already impressionable.”
Ferrell said there are already homosexual teachers in the school system.
“They do a good job or they wouldn’t be employed here,” he said.
Religion also played a role in the debate, although Tucker began her speech by saying she wouldn’t discuss “what the Bible says in Genesis, Leviticus and Romans how God condemns the particular act of homosexuality.”
Both Ferrell and Beehan acknowledged that religion has played a role in debate.
“For those who see this as a religious issue, I’m encouraged that there are others that have looked at their faith tradition and see it is best not to condemn, but to be open to what we’re trying to do only in a social way,” Beehan said. “We’re not asking anyone to change their moral or religious views.”
Ferrell said he believes that Scripture “does not address orientation at all.” He is a member of Glendale Baptist Church, which is an affiliate of the Alliance of Baptists, an organization of churches that separated from the Southern Baptist Convention in the late 1980s during the conservative resurgence. The Alliance of Baptists supports the ordination of homosexuals.
“Certainly there are people whose interpretation of Scripture suggest this is not an appropriate course of action for us,” he said. “But there are a whole lot of people who don’t interpret Scripture that same way, and I’m one of them.”
Tucker, though, said the bill would be endorsing a “lifestyle.”
“What will we do when the prostitute comes in and says that he or she needs to be protected because that’s their sexual orientation — to be a prostitute?” she asked. “What about the alcoholic, who is known to have a chemical imbalance that causes him to need alcohol? What about the liar, who declares that lying is his orientation and [he] was born to lie?
“The metro council does not need to get in the business of protecting lifestyle choices. By passing this particular legislation, we would be doing that.”