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‘Sexual orientation’ bill defeated, both sides say issue will resurface

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Nashville’s “sexual orientation” anti-discrimination bill was defeated in metro council April 1, eliciting celebration from opponents but caution from those on both sides who say the issue will eventually resurface.

The proposal to ban employment discrimination based on “sexual orientation” within the city government — thus covering all public schools — lost 19-18 in the council when Vice Mayor Howard Gentry Jr., who only votes in cases of ties, cast a “no” vote.

The dramatic ending capped 60 minutes of debate in which opponents and proponents delivered passionate yet civil arguments before a packed gallery of citizens wearing “No” buttons and “Yes” stickers. The turnout favored opponents roughly two to one.

Afterward Councilwoman Carolyn Baldwin Tucker told Baptist Press the bill’s defeat was a “victory for Nashville, a victory for the children, a victory for the Lord. … I am sure it will raise its ugly head again, and I’m sure that we will have to deal with this again. But if it’s the Lord’s will, we will prevail.”

Chris Ferrell, who cosponsored the bill, said he did not know what the next step could be. His term ends in August.

“I don’t really think there’s another bill we could bring up right now,” he said. “I’m going to continue to work with people who are fighting discrimination in this community. I have to continue to try and educate our city.”

But councilman Jason Alexander, who voted against the bill, said during the debate that his research discovered that there had been no complaints based on “sexual orientation.”

He said he called the Human Relations Committee and “asked them a logical question: How many complaints have you had in the last four years based on sexual orientation?” He was told that there had been none, he said.

Tucker began the debate by delivering one of the night’s more passionate arguments, saying that homosexuality is a “lifestyle choice” and should never be compared to protections for minorities.

An African American, she took exception to an argument in a previous council meeting in which Eileen Beehan, a bill cosponsor, made a comparison between slavery and the fight to protect “sexual orientation.” Beehan said she did not want it to take a century — the approximate time from the nation’s founding to the abolition of slavery — to give homosexuals equal protections.

“To me, as an African African, that was an insensitive, hurtful and a non-caring analogy that was personally offensive to me,” Tucker said. “… Slavery should remain buried in our past.”

Tucker’s father was born in 1888, and her grandfather was likely born a slave, she said. Her father was 59 when she was born and died when she was 5, she said later. “I am second-generation free, so don’t talk to me about slavery,” she said, addressing the council members. “I know that there are things that have happened that I would well be pleased to forget.

“I believe we would do well to leave slavery in the past.”

Certain aspects of the civil rights movement were unique to African Americans, she said.

“Homosexuals have not been made to sit in the back of the bus,” she said. “Homosexuals have not been told that you can’t drink from a certain water fountain because you’re homosexual. African Americans have. I have.

“Don’t equate the two. They’re not the same.”

The council should not be “trying to put people in a protected class that do not have an immutable characteristic,” she said. “… You will be passing a bill that sanctions a lifestyle. That’s not what our function is.”

Ferrell followed by saying that “discrimination is wrong” whether based on race, gender, disability, religion, age or sexual orientation. “It’s a fundamental belief of mine.”

Seemingly speaking to Tucker’s concerns, Ferrell acknowledged that “all of those things are not equal.”

A person should be hired “based on how well they do their job,” Ferrell said. “Sexual orientation is not a behavior. It’s the way somebody is. … Sexual orientation is something all of us have. We are all heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual,” he said, adding that he has homosexual friends who babysit his children.

Another of the bill’s supporters, Leo Waters, said, “Discrimination against gay and lesbian people is the last bastion that we have tolerated in our society. … This is not about theology or philosophy. It’s not about lifestyles or morality.” Stressing his point, he invited everyone to visit his church, Monroe Street Methodist.
“This issue is going to stay before us,” he said.

Alexander, an opponent, jokingly said the council would have more ground to pass a bill protecting smokers.

“That’s a lifestyle,” he said. “They go outside. They congregate and smoke.”

Alexander said that if the bill passed he would not allow his infant son to attend a public school that teaches “homosexuality is a viable, sexual option.” Referencing a recent debate over the public display of the Ten Commandments, Alexander said council members were told, “you can’t legislate morality.” He added, “That’s what this bill is doing. It’s legislating morality.”

Vice Mayor Gentry told Baptist Press that “sexual orientation” discrimination within the city government had not been proven and that the laws on the books are adequate.

“I saw this as becoming more divisive as time went on,” he said. “I just did not see a real benefit in passage…. I would not have considered the passage of this bill to be a victory for gays and lesbians.”

Gentry said he is “inclined to lean toward” favoring the formation of a task force to study the issue and to collect complaints — an idea suggested by another council member during debate.

The bill barely made it out of committee, passing 3-2 with one abstention. The vote April 1 was the second of three votes needed to make it to the mayor’s desk. The third vote, though, would have required a majority of the entire body (21 of 40 votes) instead of a majority of those present. Council meetings rarely have every member present.

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  • Michael Foust