Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Constitutional Questions

Tennessee House Bill 600, the legislation which essentially overturns a local Nashville/Davidson County non-discrimination ordinance, raises some interesting State constitutional questions:

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam showed on Tuesday that, contrary to what some people inside his own party believed when he ran for the State's executive position, that he isn't necessarily afraid to wade into controversial social questions as a consequence of his office. Haslam signed into law a bill that forbids localities from passing anti-discrimination ordinances which are stricter than the laws in place at the State level designed to combat discrimination. In practical terms, this legislation overturns a Nashville Metro ordinance which says that workplaces, and especially those businesses which have a contract with the Nashville/Davidson County Metro Government, cannot "discriminate based on sexual orientation." The State of Tennessee, of course, has no such provision in its anti-discrimination laws, which is the genesis of the new law.

"It is important that our anti-discrimination laws should be uniform throughout the State, and that is why I support this legislation," Senator Mike Faulk (R-Kingsport) said on the floor of the Tennessee Senate during debate over the legislation before the General Assembly adjourned. Faulk has previously served on the Tennessee Human Rights Commission as its Vice Chairman. Proponents of the legislation fear that without it, some business owners and even churches may be forced to act in a manner which contradicts their deeply-held religious beliefs in the name of combating discrimination. Many of those opposed to the law say that it is undue State interference in local affairs, and that argument alone has turned our State's traditional political spectrum on its head, because many of the people who are making it are the same people who are normally all too willing to interfere in local affairs when its suits them to do so. Arguments can be made that in the case of House Bill 600, there has been little in the way of ideological consistency on either side of the debate.

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