published Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Tennessee wedding services bill sparks opposition

NASHVILLE — Two Tennessee lawmakers have proposed a bill that would protect wedding-related businesses from lawsuits if they refuse to provide services based on religious beliefs.

Republican Sen. Mike Bell, of Riceville, and Knoxville Rep. Bill Dunn are sponsoring the proposal.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports it is expected to be reviewed by the Senate today in the wake of recent court rulings in other states striking down bans on same-sex marriage.

Bell said he thinks Tennessee’s ban will be overturned eventually and the bill would protect the religious beliefs of business owners.

American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said the bill “is clearly written” to target gay, lesbian and transgender couples and is discriminatory.

Bell disagreed.

“I think it’s happening, but it’s happening the other way, by the government, through the courts,” Bell said. “The courts are discriminating against people of faith who have deeply held convictions.”

Weinberg said the ACLU is lobbying against the proposal.

“This is based on intolerance and fear,” Weinberg said Friday.

Bell said shop owners in other states have been sued for refusing to do business.

“It’s been the proponents of same-sex marriage who have brought this to court in other states,” he said, adding that the proposal’s purpose is “protecting the religious beliefs of the business owners.”

A spokeswoman for the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry said they were aware of the bill.

“This is not something that we initiated, nor is it something that we necessarily believe in,” said spokeswoman Renuka Christoph. “We are very nondiscriminatory.”

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