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Proposed Nashville sexual orientation measure ‘remade’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A “more modest” proposal for special sexual orientation protections in Nashville law has been introduced by the councilman whose first proposals ignited a wave of opposition from the religious community.

Councilman Chris Ferrell has introduced a new proposal to amend Nashville’s anti-discrimination codes to institute protection for sexual orientation within the metro government, not the community at large. Ferrell’s cosponsor for the measure is Councilwoman Eileen Beehan.

Ferrell and Beehan withdrew two controversial proposals for sexual orientation protections during the metro council’s Feb. 4 meeting. Ferrell said at the time a new proposal would be forthcoming to meet concerns voiced by two city legal officials.

“I don’t think it’s a defeat,” Ferrell told The Tennessean daily newspaper Feb. 26. “This is a more modest step than what we originally proposed.”

Ferrell projected that at least 21 of the 40 council members will support the new proposal, which will get the first of three required readings during council’s March 4 meeting. He told the newspaper he hopes the council will set an example by joining local businesses that already have adopted non-discrimination measures in sexual orientation.

Ferrell is a member of Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville, which employs a lesbian minister and is an affiliate of the Alliance of Baptists group that supports homosexual rights and ordaining of homosexual clergy.

Ferrell’s original proposal made no exemption for religious organizations in hiring or firing homosexuals. It quietly passed two of three readings before leaders in the religious and business communities learned of the measure. Ferrell submitted a second proposal to provide such an exemption, but it encountered the same opposition within the religious and business sectors along with legal questions raised by the city law director and by council’s special counsel.

Southern Baptist Convention leaders based in Nashville have been among the opponents.

The SBC Executive Committee, which is charged with representing the interests of the Southern Baptist Convention between annual meetings, and LifeWay Christian Resources, the SBC’s discipleship/publishing entity with 1,500 employees, are based in Nashville, along with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the SBC Council of Seminary Presidents and the Southern Baptist Foundation.

During its Feb. 17-18 meeting in Nashville, the 80-member SBC Executive Committee gave strong backing for the SBC leaders’ stance.

In a unanimous vote, the Executive Committee went on record to “affirm the actions taken and concerns expressed by Dr. [Morris H.] Chapman and the senior staff of the Executive Committee in opposition to a recent Nashville Metro Council ordinance amendment designed to include homosexuals as a protected class.”

The Executive Committee statement of support for the stance by Chapman and EC staff, adopted during the closing session of the committee’s February sessions, called for:

— “… continued monitoring and similar appropriate action by staff should further attempts be made by local government officials to validate the homosexual lifestyle within Davidson County, Tennessee….

— Executive Committee staff to “continue to convey to proper local government officials the Executive Committee’s strong objection to any official action attempting to recast homosexuality as an acceptable and positive lifestyle, and also continue to express the Executive Committee’s ongoing interest in assuring that Nashville remain a quality conservative environment for corporate offices and conducive to the hosting of future annual meetings.” Last year, the Executive Committee initiated a recommendation for Nashville as the site of the 2005 SBC annual meeting city, which was approved by messengers to the June 2002 SBC annual meeting in St. Louis.

Petitions opposing special rights for homosexuals and “transgendered” individuals are being circulated in numerous Nashville-area 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.”

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