Post submitted by Hope Jackson, HRC Regional Field Organizer
These next couple of weeks could be crucial for LGBTQ equality in Tennessee. Seventeen anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced this session, and the Tennessee legislature will hold hearings on two of them this week.
Senate Bill (SB) 1085 and its House companion, House Bill (HB) 1111, known locally as the “LGBTQ Erasure” bills, attempt to undermine the impact of the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling by requiring that courts and federal agencies apply a plain meaning interpretation of gendered statutory language, including those involving the rights of husbands and wives. This would exclude many same-sex spouses from protection, because courts could not interpret “husband” or “wife” to mean “spouse” under the law. This unconstitutional measure would be in direct conflict with state and federal law that requires gender-specific words be interpreted as gender-inclusive.
The measure would have both intended and unintended consequences. For example, a woman may not be able to place her wife’s name on the birth certificate of their child. In court proceedings, a married different-sex couple could be entitled to confidential communications, but not a married same-sex couple. The measure could even prohibit surrogacy for same-sex couples.
It could also have consequences beyond the LGBTQ community. For example, it would impact state constitutional protections for women by prohibiting state courts from reading the term “man” to also include “woman.” The Tennessee law requiring no “man’s” services or property be taken without consent or compensation could suddenly be interpreted to exclude the same protections for women.
This past week, the Senate Judiciary passed SB 1085, advancing the bill to the Senate floor for consideration. HB 1111 has already passed in the House and awaits Senate committee assignment. Procedurally, this measure (once on the Senate floor) could be fast tracked with a vote and sent to the governor’s desk where he could either veto, sign, or allow the bill to become law without signature approval.
Constitutional challenges and litigation will be inevitable if this measure becomes law, forcing the State of Tennessee to divert resources to defend against the bill. Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery issued an opinion, stating the proposed bill could create conflict with current state laws that would result in courts siding with Tennessee legislature's expressed intent that “gender-specific words are to be construed as gender-inclusive.” If we have learned anything from North Carolina’s disastrous HB2, these unnecessary bills could cost economic distress, damage the state’s reputation and place the burden on Tennessee taxpayers to litigate the costs of discrimination.
SB 1085/HB 1111 is scheduled for a hearing on the Senate floor on Thursday, April 27 at 8:30 a.m. CT. HRC in partnership with Tennessee Equality Project, ACLU of Tennessee and Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, will continue to monitor and oppose SB 1085/HB 1111 and any other legislation that negatively impacts LGBTQ equality.