NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Three prominent Southern Baptist leaders are publicly opposing a proposed Nashville law that would require city contractors to add non-discrimination policies based on “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”
The policy could: 1) allow men access to women’s restrooms, 2) drive up costs due to litigation, and, 3) imperil religious liberty, the leaders say.
The three leaders — Richard Land, Frank Page and Thom Rainer — co-wrote a column published March 14 in The Tennessean. Land is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Page is president of the Executive Committee and Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources.
The Southern Baptist leaders say the proposed ordinance, which already passed the metro council once (21-16) and could receive a final vote March 16, is “ill-advised and should be rejected.” The law would place homosexuality alongside “such immutable characteristics” as race, gender and disability.
“Discrimination against such immutable characteristics as race, gender and disability is immoral, has no place in our society, and is prohibited under both federal and Tennessee law,” the letter reads. “Homosexuality is not in the same class as these characteristics, yet the proposed ordinance would elevate ‘gender identity’ and ‘sexual orientation’ to the same protected status.”
In 2009, Nashville adopted a similar policy that applied only to city employees. The proposed policy would extend the ’09 law to any business working with the city. Such a move could lead to uncomfortable moments for women, the men said.
“If passed, the ordinance would require those businesses that contract with Metro to accept the gender identification made by the employee regardless of actual physical evidence to the contrary,” the leaders wrote. “This requirement would allow a person who is anatomically male to claim to be female in gender identity and, therefore, demand access to space previously reserved for women. Some female employees may well feel uncomfortable if forced to share restroom facilities with a person who is anatomically male.”
Religious liberty is also a concern, the men said.
“While the ordinance does not apply to groups whose religious mission would be impacted, it does apply to the thousands of businesses run by people of faith,” the men wrote. “There are many Davidson County business owners who disagree with the ordinance because of their faith convictions. Imposing this regulation may contravene their right to operate their businesses according to the dictates of their consciences. These people of faith should not be forced to choose between their faith or their livelihood in order to do business with Nashville’s Metropolitan government.”
The law also could increase litigation and force business owners to “hire specialized employment law attorneys to review and draft” new employee policies. Supporters of the law note that the city has not faced any legal challenges with the current ordinance. The Southern Baptist leaders, though, say there is no guarantee that will be the case when the law is “applied to the much more complex and varied private sector.”
“We do not need to strap our economy with a regulation that places yet another legal millstone on the necks of business owners,” the letter said.
Memphis’ city council last year rejected a proposed ordinance that would have added “sexual orientation” to the city’s non-discrimination policy.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.