The seats were filled, the professor was pacing, and the guest speaker for the Tennessee Politics class at the University of Tennessee had yet to arrive.
Minutes later, Jamie Woodson walked into the door out of breath. Looking sharp in her red-checked Chanel suit with black heels and matching purse, the young Tennessee state senator apologized for being late.
Representing District Six in Knox and Jefferson County, the 34-year-old Republican senator has been in politics for most of her adult career. First an attorney, she was then elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives for the 101st through the 103rd General Assemblies. She now serves in the Tennessee Senate for the 104th General Assembly. In office, the freshman senator serves as Chair of the Senate Education Committee and Secretary of the Senate Republican Caucus, and also as a member of the Senate Transportation Committee.
The class discussion was lively, engaging both the senator’s opinion on issues and her history in government. Education reforms were a big topic for the class, as were Supreme Court decisions effecting Tennessee, and the upcoming ballot initiative on the Tennessee Marriage Amendment.
The Tennessee Marriage Amendment proposes to change to the Tennessee State Constitution by forever banning protections for same-sex couples’ relationships. It will mean that legal marriage is only between one man and one woman and that any same-sex marriages performed outside the state will not be recognized in Tennessee. It will also limit any recognition of same-sex relationships such as civil unions or domestic partnerships.
A student asked, “How do you feel about the Marriage Amendment defining marriage?” Woodson thought and stated she believes marriage should be between one man and one woman. Woodson said, “I did vote for it,” referring to the 1996 statute that outlawed all but one man-one woman marriages. The upcoming ballot initiative will take things one step further by amending the Constitution, despite the law that is already on the books.
Woodson’s stance on marriage was clear, but the class wanted to know how she felt on other protections GLBT partners have.
Another student asked, “Since you are not in favor of gay marriage, how do you feel about civil unions?” Woodson’s response, “I do support civil unions, I feel they can protect whatever they want to protect.”
Her attitude toward civil unions is refreshing, especially coming from the Republican side of the aisle.
After civil unions, domestic partnerships were discussed. Woodson’s thoughts on domestic partnerships were indifferent. Woodson said, “Private sectors or businesses can support who they want to.” The discussion then moved away from GLBT issues, but it does seem that Woodson is supportive of the GLBT community overall.
Class ended, and the professor stood up asking the class to give thanks for Senator Woodson’s time. Applause was given and the students filed out, and in true politician form, Senator Woodson shook everyone’s hand.
The question regarding how Woodson would actually vote on the issues of civil unions and domestic partnerships was not asked, but knowing that the GLBT community has somewhat of an ally in Tennessee State Senator Jamie Woodson is a victory in and of itself.