Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday that local governments shouldn't go beyond federal or state anti-discrimination requirements to protect gays and lesbians in the work force.
"I don't think many Tennesseans feel like we don't have enough mandates on businesses," Haslam said after he signed legislation that prohibits local governments from creating anti-discrimination laws that are stricter than the state's rules. "This had the concurrence of 70 percent of the Legislature."
Despite opposition from some businesses and Chambers of Commerce, Haslam said he doesn't think the measure will hurt the state's business or visitor recruitment. The law overrules a Nashville ordinance that prohibited companies that discriminate because of sexual orientation or gender identity from receiving city contracts. Nashville is among nearly 100 cities nationwide that have adopted such measures to protect gays and lesbians.
"We thought a lot about this because I don't like state government telling local governments what to do," Haslam said. "But I also don't think local governments should tell local businesses what to do either."
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese pointed out that a number of businesses - including FedEx, AT&T, Whirlpool and Comcast - oppose the measure because they view it as discriminatory.
He noted the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce at one time favored the measure, then changed its stance. Nissan officials issued a statement saying the company believes in a standard state regulatory environment, but shares "public concerns about this bill's impact on diversity and inclusiveness."
Jim Brown, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said his group considered the "controversial nature of the bill" but decided to support it because it believes it will protect private employers from "patchwork regulations."
"Our view was there are states like California, Michigan and others that have really gone off on the deep end and they have all these patchwork regulations from different cities," Brown said. "I think the principle of the bill is to protect private employers from ... regulations that they don't want to operate under."
David Fowler, a former state legislator from Signal Mountain who is president of Family Action of Tennessee, a Christian conservative advocacy group, agreed.
"At a time when many families are struggling to find employment, the Legislature and the governor have done their part to help them by creating a better climate for job growth by preventing employers from being subjected to more and possibly inconsistent government regulation," Fowler said.
The Associated Press and business editor Dave Flessner contributed to this report.