sexual orientation

‘Natural and ordinary’ bill approved, brings LGBT complaints to deferring Haslam

Excerpt from an Associated Press report:

Words in state law must be interpreted as having “natural and ordinary meaning” under a bill passed by the Tennessee Senate on Thursday. Critics call it a sneaky way of encouraging state judges to deny rights to same-sex couples and transgender people.

LGBT groups lamented the 23-6 vote and immediately began prodding Republican Gov. Bill Haslam for a veto, but his spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals said he is “deferred to the will of the legislature.” The House approved the same legislation last month.

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Sen. Green: I only labeled ‘murderous terrorists” evil (but urged doctor ‘cherry picking’ of patients?)

In apparently his first response to criticism from LGBT and Muslim groups on his nomination by President Trump as U.S. Army secretary, state Sen. Mark Green declares on Facebook that “the liberal left has cut and spliced my words about terrorism and ISIS blatantly falsifying what I’ve said. “

“The only people I have ever called evil are murderous terrorists trying to kill Americans,” he writes. “The only people I have ever suggested be crushed are the terrorist enemies of our nation.”

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AG: In TN, ‘men’ includes ‘women’ so courts may say ‘husband’ does, too

A new state attorney general opinion says a House-passed bill declaring courts must use the “natural and ordinary meaning” of undefined words in interpreting Tennessee statutes may not work when it comes to words such as “husband” and “wife,” according to a new attorney general’s opinion.

The bill in question appears to conflict with existing state law on gender-specific words and could also be at odds with the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling, the opinion says. The bill passed the House 70-23 on March 16 and is awaiting a Senate floor vote.

Excerpt from the opinion (the whole thing is HERE):

Question 2: If a Tennessee court construed words such as “husband,” “wife,” “father,” or “mother” by their ordinary meaning as required by Senate Bill 1085/House Bill 1111 if it were to become law, would that construction be counter to the holding of the United States Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ___, 135 S. Ct. 2584 (2015)?

Opinion 2: Statutes that are related to marriage or to the terms, conditions, benefits, or obligations of marriage could, in some instances, be in conflict with the holding in Obergefell if gender-specific words in those statutes were construed according to the proposed legislation. But not every statute that has gender-specific terms would necessarily conflict with Obergefell if it were construed according to the proposed legislation.

We note, however, that if the proposed legislation were to become law, it may not necessarily result in a judicial construction of statutes that preserves the literal meaning of gender-specific words. The Tennessee Legislature has already expressed its intent that gender-specific words are to be construed as gender-inclusive when they appear in the Tennessee Code. The proposed legislation could, in some instances, be in direct conflict with Tenn. Code Ann. § 1-3-104(b) which instructs that “[w]ords importing the masculine gender include the feminine and neuter, except when the contrary intention is manifest.” Any conflict between this existing statute and the proposed legislation would be resolved to allow the specific to control the more general statute. Thus, in construing certain statutes with gender-limiting words, a court would likely apply the very specific gender-inclusive requirements of Tenn. Code Ann. § 1-3-104(b) rather than the very general “ordinary meaning” requirements of the proposed legislation.

Note: The bill, and a similar measure, were inspired by a Knoxville judge’s ruling in a child custody dispute between divorcing lesbians who were legally married in another state. The ruling said only the biological mother of the child, born after artificial insemination, has any legal rights to custody. Previous post HERE.

Green’s Army secretary nomination draws national LGBT activist criticism

State Sen. Mark Green’s selection by President Trump as U.S Secretary of the Army, formally announced Friday, is drawing criticism from LGBT activists in national media reporting. If confirmed, the Clarksville Republican will succeed Eric Fanning, a 2016 Obama appointee who became the first openly gay person to be named as head of any branch of the U.S. military services.

A sampler from reports over the weekend:

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Sex Week at UT-Knoxville — different this year?

The University of Tennessee’s controversial Sex Week, which got underway Sunday, may have started as a way to address sexual assaults on campus and more traditional issues around sexuality, but this year the event is tackling an even broader range of issues, reports the News Sentinel.

A somewhat contrasting report of the Sex Week events is offered by Tennessee Star. Excerpts from both follow.

From the KNS:

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‘Natural Marriage’ bill amended, punted to next year

The Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act – or what the AP describes as a “watered-down version” of the proposal that began as a declaration that the state would not recognize same-sex marriages – was shelved until next year by the House Civil Justice Subcommittee Wednesday with the concurrence of sponsor Rep. Mike Pody, R-Lebanon.

The bill (HB892, as amended) would have required the state attorney general to defend county or city clerks in court if they’re sued for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Pody agreed to move the bill to next year amid two ongoing local lawsuits, which challenge the implementation of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made same-sex marriage legal nationwide. Initially, the bill would have declared that marriage is only between one man and one woman.

Further from The Tennessean:

Before the bill was delayed, the committee adopted an amendment that said since the Obergefell case only applied to recognizing other state’s same-sex marriages, Tennessee should be able to decide what goes on within its own borders, according to Pody.

“This turned out to be a very good day for us, the amendment got on, it’s on calendar for next year and we’re just going to see how the two cases go through. I’m thrilled,” Pody said.

… Legislative analysts said the marriage bill could put at risk $9 billion Tennessee receives from the federal government if Washington sees the measure as discrimination against same-sex couples.

That figure does not include any consideration for legal fees Tennessee could incur from any potential lawsuits but Pody said he remains undeterred.

“I’m a fiscal conservative, I want to fight for every single dollar we have up here, but I’m not going to be bullied by potential threats by the federal government,” he said.

‘Bathroom bill’ gets cold shoulder in Senate

The so-called “bathroom bill,” declaring that students in a school much use a restroom for the gender given on their birth certificate, could not get a motion for passage in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, leaving it dead for the year.

From The Tennessean’s report:

Opponents of the bill from the American Civil Liberties Union and LGBT Chamber of Commerce filled the committee room and held up signs in silent opposition to the bill (SB771), claiming it discriminates against transgender students and other members of the LGBT community.

When the bill was met with silence and dismissed by the committee, supporters let out happy gasps of surprise.

“It seems like we are making progress on teaching these legislators on what being transgender in Tennessee is like,” said Henry Seaton, the LGBT organizer for the ACLU of Tennessee said. “I was very shocked, but very proud that they did not hear it.”

…(Lt. Gov. Randy)  McNally praised the “diligent work” of the Senate Education Committee.

“Due to President Trump’s courageous action, the rationale for legislation no longer exists. The president’s reversal of the Obama administration’s overreaching cultural assault brings the issue back where it belongs: our local communities,” McNally said.

The Oak Ridge Republican said the “unneeded legislation” would have resulted in litigation that would have put school bathroom policies in the hands of federal judges rather than those on the local level. “This issue is best addressed by those closest to the community.

…(House sponsor Rep. Mark) Pody said he was disappointed by the Senate committee’s action, saying they did not have the backbone to protect Tennessee’s children.

… President of the Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT) David Fowler echoed Pody’s disappointment, saying in a statement that the committee insulted the values of thousands of Tennesseans.

“Today, nine members of the Tennessee Senate Education Committee, seven of whom voted for this same bill last year, decided that legislation on this topic did not even merit a motion or a second,” his statement said.

Most GOP legislators try again to get involved in same-sex divorce case

Seventy-one Republican state legislators – 52 representatives and 19 senators – on Friday filed a new motion to intervene in a child custody dispute between two Knoxville women who married outside the state, then sought a divorce after living in Tennessee.

It’s the second such motion; the first was filed in September, 2016,  with 53 Republican legislators signing on to the effort launched by David Fowler, executive director of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, the state’s largest Christian conservative group. This one makes a point of involving Attorney General Herbert Slatery, who has filed a brief in the matter that Fowler disputes.

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House Repubs shut off ‘natural and ordinary’ debate, quickly approve bill

The House on Thursday passed a bill that the state’s LGBT community fears is an attack on their parental rights in disguise, reports the Nashville Post.

Sponsored by Rep. Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville), HB 1111 states that in the Tennessee Code, “undefined words shall be given their natural and ordinary meaning, without forced or subtle construction that would limit or extend the meaning of the language, except when a contrary intention is clearly manifest.”

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh questioned Farmer on the necessity of the bill, asking if a catfish farm would count in the “natural and ordinary meaning” of the word “farm.”

“We’re not trying to step out and place anything in a small little box here,” Farmer replied. “We all know for example, there are places in the code that say ‘men,’ or maybe humanity, and we know that ‘men’ don’t always mean ‘a man.’ It can mean ‘a man and a woman,’ and there are portions of the code that make that very, very clear.”

“So you’re basically saying this is already the law,” Fitzhugh asked.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Farmer replied. But before Fitzhugh could follow up, debate was cut off. The bill passed 70 to 23.

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Senate approves California-bashing resolution

The state Senate voted 25-3 Monday night for a resolution chastising the state of California over imposing a ban on state-funded travel to Tennessee and three other states over laws criticized by some as being anti-LGBT, reports the Times-Free Press.

While the amended version of Sen. Mike Bell’s resolution (SJR111) dropped language calling for Tennessee leaders to implement a reciprocal ban, the Riceville Republican’s measure continued to draw fire from several Democratic senators.

Bell, who originally contemplated introducing a bill retailiating against California’s “liberal” policies with Tennessee’s own travel ban, changed directions, opting for the resolution. It calls to other states’ attention California’s moves against Tennessee, North Carolina, Mississippi and Kansas over enacting laws Golden State lawmakers saw as discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.

…Bell’s resolution still takes swipes at California, accusing officials of trying to “blackmail” Tennessee and the other states, warning it could lead to an “economic civil war.” It also lashes out at California over what it calls its “exorbitant taxes, spiraling budget deficits, runaway social welfare programs, and rampant illegal immigration.”

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro of Nashville characterized it as a “nastygram” and “not exactly the most healthy way to proceed.”

Bell defended the language, saying it was intended to discourage states from taking shots at one another.


Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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