After a surge of media attention in the past week, it seems that SB2566, coined the 'Turn the Gays Away' bill, has been pushed back to the subcommittee where it's likely to remain for the remainder of the legislative calendar.
Today, SB2566 was scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judicial Committee. The room was packed with as many as 75 equality supporters wearing red.
Senator Brian Kelsey, chair of the Senate Judicial Committee and the original sponsor of SB2566, opened the session by addressing the crowd about his intentions with SB2566. Sen. Kelsey began by saying that he never intended the language of the bill to include hospitals and other necessary locations. "I would never introduce legislation that attempts to limit the civil rights of any Tennessean whether straight or gay," Kelsey said before asking Senator Mike Bell, the current Senate sponsor, if he would be willing to wait until next year to see what the courts decide on the issue of same-sex marriage.
Before making a motion on SB2566, Sen. Bell asked to make a statement in which the senator pointed out that the LGBT community is not a protected class under Tennessee state law and referred to the 'conduct' of Tennessee's LGBT citizens.
In his speech, the senator said "I spent the better part of this last weekend seeking counsel from smarter people than me about this legislation. After consulting with three judges and several attorneys, I'm convinced that current Tennessee law protects our business owners from the type of lawsuit harassment we've seen in other states. Current law defines protected classes and does not allow for discrimination if you are a member of one of those protected classes. That's why we do not and should not allow discrimination based on race, sex, religion, color, national origin, etcetera. But at this time it is my belief that Tennessee law does allow business owners to choose to provide services based on consumer conduct."
Also in his speech, Senator Bell compared the bill to the plight of Senator Stacey Campfield, who in 2012 was asked to leave an East Tennessee restaurant because of his politics.
See the full speech below.
Chris Sanders, Executive Director of the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), told reporters following the announcement "…we're glad this bill didn't go through because it did not say yet again in Tennessee here's a class you can discriminate against."
Sanders continued saying that "we think increasingly what you're going to see in the law and court rulings is that sexual orientation and gender identity are going to be protected classes. We see it in the federal hate crimes law now and we do believe it will continue to expand to employment, housing and public accommodations, but it does not currently in Tennessee."
Sanders also spoke about upcoming issues that TEP is focusing on, including the Tenth Annual Advancing Equality Day on the Hill, March 11.