NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–By a bare minimum of votes, Nashville’s city council passed a controversial new ordinance April 5 that will require city contractors to add nondiscrimination policies based on “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”
Southern Baptist leaders were among those who had expressed concern over the law, warning it would, among other things, imperil the religious liberty of business owners who view homosexuality as immoral and even allow men access to women’s restrooms.
Needing 21 votes to pass the 40-member body, the ordinance got exactly that, passing 21-15. Mayor Karl Dean, who is up for reelection this year, has said he would sign it. Council member Michael Craddock, who is running against Dean, voted against the ordinance, The Tennessean reported.
The concern over restrooms involves the definition of “gender identity.” The Human Rights Campaign — the nation’s largest homosexual organization — says the term “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.” The concern by critics is that, under the ordinance, a man who inwardly identifies as a woman can begin using a woman’s restroom.
Conservatives now are focusing on the Tennessee state House, which is considering a bill, H.B. 600, that would overturn Nashville’s ordinance and any other such laws statewide. The House bill would prevent local governments from adopting antidiscrimination standards not recognized by the state.
The Tennessee Equality Project, a homosexual group, said the Nashville ordinance sends a message “that if you’re talented and willing to work, you’re welcome in Nashville.”
The ordinance does have an exception for religious-oriented businesses, but critics said that doesn’t go far enough. David Shelley, pastor of Smith Springs Baptist Church, attended the council meeting in opposition to the proposal.
“This ordinance,” he wrote in an email to concerned citizens, “will force businesses and other organizations who provide a service to Metro to either a) change their own private organization’s personnel policies to a pro-homosexual position or b) lose their opportunity to do business with the city. I know several business owners who will lose business with the city over this and will have to lay off employees as a result.”
Councilman Phil Claiborne made such an argument during the meeting.
“Let’s not punish folks that are needed to make this city’s growth successful by putting additional burdens on them,” Claiborne said, according to The Tennessean.
In March, three Southern Baptist leaders — Richard Land, Frank Page and Thom Rainer — co-wrote a column published in The Tennessean asserting the proposal could: 1) allow men access to women’s restrooms, 2) drive up costs due to litigation, and, 3) imperil religious liberty. Land is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Page is president of the Executive Committee and Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources.
Compiled by Baptist Press associate editor Michael Foust.