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VOL. 132 | NO. 35 | Friday, February 17, 2017

State Lawmakers Confronted Over Anti-LGBT Bills

By Sam Stockard

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NASHVILLE – The unveiling of legislation undercutting same-sex marriage and enforcing transgender bathroom rules turned into a short-circuited press conference and confrontation Wednesday, Feb. 15.

Some 60 protesters shouted down state Rep. Mark Pody and Sen. Mae Beavers just two minutes into their presentation on anti-LGBT bills, and as the two legislators walked out of a meeting room, the protestors chased them down the halls of the Legislative Plaza. Surrounded by Tennessee Highway Patrol officers, they confronted Pody in the hallway as Beavers slipped into her office out of the melee.

One man asked Pody why he was so concerned about what the man did in his own bedroom and told Pody, “I’m going to be back to confront you every time you do this.”

A young woman pleaded with Pody, saying, “We just want to live our life,” and asked him just to talk to the group.

Pody, a Lebanon Republican, responded, “I believe I tried to and you all wouldn’t let me talk.”

The circus atmosphere was about as short-lived as the press conference.

Moments later, Chris Sanders, spokesman for the Tennessee Equality Project, an advocate for the LGBT community, said he had wanted to hear what Pody and Beavers had to say but was not surprised at the outcome.

“The way they began, it sounded as if they were gonna defend their position, and clearly those arguments weren’t playing to the audience in the room. And I think increasingly citizens in Tennessee are getting tired of these kinds of attack bills,” Sanders said.

Pody and Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, are reviving the so-called 2016 transgender bill that would require people at public schools and state colleges to use restrooms identifying with the sex on their birth certificates. Republican sponsor Rep. Susan Lynn of Mt. Juliet declined to bring the bill to the House floor last year for a vote.

The lawmakers also are sponsoring the Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Action requiring the policy of Tennessee to defend natural marriage between one man and one woman regardless of any court decision to the contrary, a clear knock on the 2015 Supreme Court decision guaranteeing same-sex marriage rights.

Pody opened the Wednesday press conference by saying the bill is tied to the state’s constitutional amendment passed several years ago, stating marriage is an institution and legal contract “solemnizing the relationship for one man and one woman” and that it “shall be the only legally recognized marital contract in the state.”

Any other policy, law or judicial interpretation defining marriage differently is contrary to public policy in Tennessee and “shall be void and unenforceable,” Pody said. Marriage licenses issued by other states or foreign jurisdictions prohibited in Tennessee would be void and unenforceable, as well, he said.

“We passed that here in Tennessee overwhelmingly with over 80 percent of the vote,” Pody told the crowd.

But as he began to discuss the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision allowing same-sex marriage, the crowd started to interrupt him, shouting, “Pull the bill!” and, “What you’re doing is un-American!” and, “Shame on you!”

Pody and Beavers then abruptly ended the press conference and walked out, with the group calling them “runners” and “cowards.”

The crowd followed them a few seconds later; as one woman said, “They’ve got enough of my money. I’m going to their office.”

Highway Patrol officers mingled with the group to provide protection, but no violence took place.

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter covering the Legislature for the Memphis Daily News. He can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.

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