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VOL. 132 | NO. 65 | Friday, March 31, 2017

Anti-Gay Marriage Legislation Fades Along With Transgender Restrooms

By Sam Stockard

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Anti-gay marriage legislation appears to be dead in the House of Representatives for the year. The House Civil Justice Subcommittee voted Wednesday, March 29, to put off an amended version of the Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act until 2018. Under the measure, Tennessee’s policy would require it to defend “natural marriage” between one man and one woman regardless of any court decision to the contrary.

Rep. Mark Pody, a Lebanon Republican, and Sen. Mae Beavers, a Mt. Juliet Republican, sponsored the legislation in response to the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which overruled state laws and allowed same-sex marriage.

Pody and Beavers have both pointed out the Tennessee Constitution states: “This historical institution and legal contract solemnizing the relationship of one man and one woman shall be the only legally recognized marital contract in the state.”

But after testimony by several people who are involved in same-sex marriages as well as comments by some legislators who noted Tennessee is involved in legal action over the matter, the panel opted to “roll” the bill until next year.

“I think these representatives heard something that they may not have heard (before) from these people who were so brave to talk about their experiences,” said Henry Seaton, LGBTQ organizer for ACLU-Tennessee.

The bill’s postponement until 2018 gives the group more time to education people about the LGBTQ community in Tennessee, Seaton said. He also pointed out legislation restricting transgender use of public school restrooms is dead for the year in the General Assembly. Beavers’ version of the bill failed in committee recently after it failed to receive a motion for consideration.

Said Seaton, “Hopefully, people see this isn’t a problem anymore, where we don’t introduce legislation that’s hateful toward other people, no matter what it is.”

Pody was willing to postpone the matter at the request of legislators such as Rep. Andrew Farmer, who noted Tennessee is already involved in legal action. But it could come back in 2018.

“I thought Rep. Farmer had a good idea,” Pody said. “He said as long as we have two active lawsuits that we’re working right now, maybe we should finish those lawsuits and see what’s gonna be the outcome, and we’ll take it up next year.”

Earlier in the session, a group of LGBTQ supporters chased Pody and Beavers out of a press conference earlier where they were planning to introduce their legislation dealing with same-sex marriage and restricting restroom use in schools to a person’s sex at birth.

Said Chris Sanders, spokesman for the Tennessee Equality Project, an LGBTQ advocacy group, “The 2015 Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges is the law of the land and the Legislature would invite chaos by providing legal cover to county clerks and other local officials who might ignore the ruling, not to mention incurring the devastating financial costs of the original bill. Fortunately, for now, the Legislature has chosen not to act, but the harms will be the same if the bill moves in 2018.”

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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