Tennessee 'natural meaning' law raises
fears in LGBT community
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[May 06, 2017]
By Chris Kenning
(Reuters) - Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam
on Friday enacted a bill that critics say is an underhanded way of
denying rights to same-sex couples by insisting on the "natural and
ordinary meaning" of words in state statues.
The legislation, which was signed by the Republican governor despite
pressure from civil liberty and gay-rights groups, requires words in
Tennessee law be interpreted with their "natural and ordinary meaning,
without forced or subtle construction that would limit or extend the
meaning of the language." It did not explain, however, what that means.
Civil rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocates
warned the law is meant to undermine the rights of same-sex couples in
any statutes that include words like "husband," "wife," "mother" or
Neither of the two sponsoring lawmakers, Republican state Senator John
Stevens and Republican state Representative Andrew Farmer, could be
reached to comment.
However, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported Stevens said he proposed
the measure partly to compel courts to side more closely with the
dissenting opinion in the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 2015 ruling in
the case of Obergefell v. Hodges which legalized same-sex marriage.
Haslam said on Friday he believes the law will not change how courts
interpret legal precedent.
"While I understand the concerns raised about this bill, the Obergefell
decision is the law of the land, and this legislation does not change a
principle relied upon by the courts for more than a century, mitigating
the substantive impact of this legislation," he said in a statement.
The Tennessee measure is one of more than 100 bills introduced in U.S.
state legislatures this year that to curtail LGBT rights, said Cathryn
Oakley, senior legislative counsel for the LGBT advocacy group Human
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Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Haslam listens during the
National Governors Association Winter Meeting in Washington,
February 22, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Theiler/File Photo
While public opinion polls and court rulings have shifted in favor
of same-sex rights in recent years, there is ongoing pushback from
the 2015 ruling, Oakley said.
Last month, a Kentucky family court judge made headlines by issuing
an order stating he would not hear adoption cases involving same-sex
couples due to personal objections. That echoed Kentucky county
clerk Kim Davis' 2015 refusal to issue same-sex marriage licenses
because it violated her religious beliefs.
Gay-rights groups previously warned the law could create an economic
backlash against Tennessee similar to that suffered by North
Carolina, where a law requiring students use the restroom of the
gender on their birth certificates led sports organizations and
musicians to cancel events.
(Reporting by Chris Kenning in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)
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