Tennessee, Oklahoma led nation in wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation

Tennessee, Oklahoma led nation in wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation

January 23rd, 2017 by Andy Sher in Politics State

Colors wave as hundreds gather for a vigil Monday night on the Southside. The huge flag was placed by the Tennessee Valley Pride Board Committee just outside the entrance to Chucks II, an LGBT club on West Main Street.

Colors wave as hundreds gather for a vigil...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE — Tennessee and Oklahoma legislatures led the nation last year in a national "wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation" after the U.S. Supreme Court's same-sex marriage ruling, according to a group that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Oklahoma ranked No. 1 with 30 such bills, while Tennessee was No. 2 with 17 measures.

The Human Rights Campaign, a national group advocating on LGBTQ issues, says such legislation is "meant to restrict the rights of LGBTQ individuals and their families."

Meanwhile, the group's officials expect new battles in 2017 with at least "40 anti-LGBTQ bills in 16 states introduced so far."

At least two measures have already been introduced in Tennessee.

In 2016 alone, legislators in 38 states filed about 250 bills and "more than 200 of those posed real threat of passage," Human Rights Campaign officials said.

"As was predicted, and in large part as pushback to the Obergefell v. Hodges decision which brought marriage equality nationwide in summer of 2015, many of the bills filed in 2016 were religious refusal bills," according to the campaign.

The Republican-controlled Tennessee General Assembly sought in various ways to combat the decisions through legislation. Lawmakers' view is the nation's highest court had no business stepping into states' domain on marriage laws.

Human Rights Campaign officials say "Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, originally intended to protect religious minorities from discrimination, were crafted with the intention of allowing individuals and businesses to deny service and employment to LGBTQ people based on a professed 'religious belief.'"

Only five bills the HRC says it identified as targeting the LGBTQ community were identified as passing nationwide in 2016.

One of those was a Tennessee law, sponsored by Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, and Rep. Dan Howell, R-Georgetown.

The measure, which drew national attention, superseded the American Counseling Association's code of ethics to allow therapists and counselors to reject clients whose goals were at odds with the professionals' "sincerely held beliefs."

This year, Johnson has introduced a followup to the 2016 law that would require state counselors to come up with their own ethical code outside the national group's.

Last year, Republican majority lawmakers in Tennessee as well as in other states also pushed "bathroom bills" requiring students to use facilities that correspond to the sex listed on their birth certificates.

Tennessee's House bill was withdrawn by its Republican sponsor at the last minute after Republican Gov. Bill Haslam urged the GOP-dominated General Assembly not to pass it because of concerns raised by businesses and potential business- and tourism-related boycotts in light of a similar law being enacted in North Carolina.

North Carolina's action resulted in several major corporations canceling plans to locate or expand existing operations in the Tar Heel State and the National Collegiate Athletic Association yanking championship games out of the state.

While Tennessee experienced less turbulence over its counseling bill, which was signed into law by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, it led to some groups canceling conventions in Nashville.

California, meanwhile, passed a law that took effect impacting Tennessee. It bars California state officials' taxpayer-funded travel to Tennessee and other states with what officials contend are anti-LGBTQ laws.

This year, Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, and Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, have introduced legislation that would define the terms of mother, father, husband and wife in Tennessee.

It says the terms should be "given their natural and ordinary meaning" based on "biological distinctions between women and men."

Lawmakers said it stems from a Knoxville civil court case in which gender roles in state law was at issue in the case of two same-sex parents wrangling over child custody. The purpose is to clarify state law, they argued.

Others are wondering if the aim is to get a new case into federal courts with the ultimate goal being to get a new case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.


This story was updated Jan. 23 at 11:30 p.m.


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