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Pro-homosexual proposals withdrawn, but issue isn’t over in Nashville

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Two proposals to add “sexual orientation” to Nashville’s employment and housing protections were withdrawn during Metro Council’s Feb. 4 meeting.

The issue is far from settled, however.

The lead sponsor of the proposals, at-large councilman Chris Ferrell, said he will introduce a new proposal later in the month addressing concerns in legal opinions from the council’s special counsel, Don Jones, and the city’s law director, Karl Dean.

Meanwhile, the issue is stirring an increasing number of churches to action, including Nashville’s largest Southern Baptist church, Two Rivers, whose pastor, Jerry Sutton, attended the Feb. 4 council meeting.

Several dozen opponents of Ferrell’s proposals attended the Feb. 4 session, many of them wearing stickers with the words, “God Knows Best. Vote no.” Denny Patterson, pastor of Nolensville Road Baptist Church, told The Tennessean daily newspaper, “We want to make sure we keep the pressure on, let them know that anytime they bring this up, we’ll be down here to oppose it.”

Petitions opposing special rights for homosexuals and “transgendered” individuals are being circulated in Two Rivers and various other churches.

One such petition states:

“We, the undersigned residents, citizens, voters, taxpayers and consumers of Davidson County, Tennessee, STRONGLY OPPOSE any attempt to include sexual orientation as a protected class under [Ferrell’s proposed amendments to the city codes] BL-2002-1274 and BL2003-1313, and ANY bills designed to validate or formally recognize any non-traditional genders or sexual preferences. We urge the individual members of the Metro Council and Vice Mayor [Howard] Gentry to vote AGAINST these measures. If necessary, Mayor [Bill] Purcell, we urge you to VETO them. Thank you.”

Ferrell, in withdrawing his proposals Feb. 4, said he will work with the city attorneys to draft a new amendment to Nashville’s anti-discrimination ordinance providing a clear exemption for religious institutions — missing in the first of Ferrell’s proposals — and address other legal concerns raised by Jones and Dean.

In moving to withdraw his proposals, Ferrell, a member of Glendale Baptist Church, an affiliate of the Alliance of Baptists group that supports homosexual rights and clergy ordination, said he “never had so many seconds” to a motion in his eight years on council.

“We’re talking to our colleagues on the council about the strategy going forward,” Ferrell told The Tennessean. “Everyone seems to agree that withdrawing the two pending bills and filing another is the best way to proceed.”

Ferrell’s initial proposal giving no exemption to religious institutions in employment decisions involving homosexuals had quietly passed two of three required readings but was deferred during a Jan. 21 council meeting once church, business and tourism leaders were alerted to the matter and voiced concern. Ferrell subsequently introduced a separate measure to the religious exemption.

Among those concerned: Southern Baptist Convention officials charged with the responsibility of recommending convention sites for the SBC annual meeting. Nashville has been selected as the site of the 2005 SBC annual meeting.

Also voicing concern: LifeWay Christian Resources, with more than 1,500 employees in its Nashville headquarters, and the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, also based in Nashville.

Under the proposal, the words “sexual orientation” would be added to Metro Nashville’s Fair Employment and Housing Law stipulating that people cannot be discriminated against because of their “race, color, religion, national origin or sex.” The word, “sex,” meanwhile, would be changed to “gender.” The amended law would seek to protect homosexuals from the threat of being fired or denied housing because of their lifestyle.

Abby Rubenfeld, described by The Tennessean as “an attorney, mother, lesbian and board member of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee,” told the newspaper, “The step tonight is a positive step,” after the Feb. 4 meeting in which Ferrell withdrew his proposals. “We are moving forward.”