Wedding Services Bill Dead This Session
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (NewsChannel 5/AP) - A proposal to protect wedding-related businesses from lawsuits if they refuse to provide services to same-sex couples is dead for the session.
The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville was withdrawn from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
Under the measure, a person or group wouldn't have to provide services for a domestic partnership or marriage not recognized by the state if doing so would violate their religious beliefs.
Tennessee does not recognize same-sex marriages.
Bell reiterated that the legislation was intended to protect shop owners in Tennessee, noting that those in other states have been sued for refusing to do business.
However, opponents of the measure say it's intended to target gay, lesbian and transgender couples and is discriminatory.
Bell says he allowed the legislation to die because current state law already offers business owners the protections his bill spelled out.
The Tennessee Human Rights Act does not include gay people as a protected class from discrimination.
Bell also pointed out THRA also does not protect political beliefs from discrimination. He cited a lawmaker being refused service at a restaurant because of that lawmaker's opposition to gay marriage.
Even though current law does not protect gay couples from discrimination, opponents of the legislation in question - dubbed the "Turn Gays Away Bill" - called Tuesday a victory.
"Our job is to fight negative bills if they come back for now we're very pleased," said Tennessee Equality Project Executive Director Chris Sanders. "When people speak out, when they contact their representatives, when they really take the time to understand what's going on in our state government they actually can make a difference."
Bell cited several cases in the hearing where business owners in other states have been sued for turning away gay customers.
Last fall, four gay couples - who were married in other states, but now live in Tennessee - filed a federal lawsuit challenging our state's ban on gay marriage.
That case is still being considered by the courts.
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