Councilwoman pushes gay rights ordinance

By Brent Frazier
WTVF NewsChannel 5

Watch the video of this story here.

It's a question of equal rights or special rights  Another sexual orientation debate is gripping Nashville. Thousands of Metro workers could see a new layer of protection added to the employee handbook if councilwoman Megan Barry gets it past her nay-sayers.

Megan Barry says she drafted this ordinance in response to actual complaints in Metro workplaces. Now, she says she's getting even more claims of discrimination.

Megan Barry can recall a textbook example of discrimination that did not happen in Nashville.

"The employer said ‘I don't like you, so I'm firing you.' Now if he'd stopped at ‘I don't like you,' that would have been one thing; but he didn't. He said, ‘I don't like you because you're gay.' And in that instance that individual crossed a line," said Megan Barry Council Member at Large.

Her ordinance, Bill 2009-502 passed on first reading, but nine council members, all men, voted against it, including Robert Duvall.

"How do we identify them? How do we know if they're telling the truth? What if they want to change in the middle? And it's something... you choose this way of life," said Metro Council Member Robert Duvall

He calls the measure unnecessary and anticipates many more "nay" votes on the next reading. Barry looks forward to a seemless transition, an uneventful approval of the measure, nothing like Nashville saw six years ago when a similar citywide ordinance failed after the tie vote.

With then, Vice Mayor Howard Gentry, casting the deciding, ‘no' ballot. Critics argue supporters like Megan Barry might not stop at just the Metro Employee handbook, and that adding "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the classes protected could turn into a citywide movement.

"I don't have an agenda. What I have is a deep, personal belief that nobody should be discriminated against," said Barry.

Metro Schools passed an identical policy just last fall with little fanfare. This councilwoman says attracting and keeping the most qualified employees just makes good business sense.

"Private employers already do this in droves. In fact, the biggest employers in Nashville do it, Vanderbilt University, HCA."

Barry also says more than 150 U.S. cities, like Louisville for example already have this on the books. Opponents like Councilman Duvall argue, the U.S. Constitution offers more than adequate protection for gay and lesbian employees, and passing the ordinance could open-up the city to lawsuits.

The next council meeting and second reading has been moved to Thursday, August 6th.

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