Non-discrimination ordinance deferred during testy council meeting

After some serious arm-twisting before and during the Metro Council meeting on Aug. 6, a proposed change to Metro’s non-discrimination policies long pushed by the GLBT community is still alive.

The amendment would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the protected classes already covered by Metro’s policies and would bring them in line with similar changes recently adopted without controversy by the Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Council member Megan Barry, the bill’s sponsor, had hoped to defer the bill for one meeting in order to address questions and concerns from the council and the community, but opponents of the measure, which passed a first reading at the council’s July 21 meeting, challenged it with amendments and pointed questioning during a meeting of the council’s personnel committee.

Council members Jim Gotto and Eric Crafton were the most persistent questioners, asking council attorney Jon Cooper repeatedly about whether adding these two groups to the policy would result in lawsuits and expense to the county. When Cooper said that anyone, at any time, could sue any entity for discrimination, the discussion shifted to the sexual-orientation issue itself, with opponents to the bill charging that it, by its very nature, would discriminate. To that end, Crafton offered up several amendments to the bill, adding height, weight and military service to covered classes. While he withdrew those, an amendment disallowing Metro to provide domestic-partner benefits did pass.

“We don’t need to be adding any special classes beyond what the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 covered,” Crafton said.

“And we don’t need to vote on a protected class based on a person’s choice of sexual orientation,” added Gotto. “We should protect other things.”
When the discussion had ended, the motion to defer the bill was defeated 4-2, with Barry decrying the absence of councilmanic courtesy, which usually allows a bill’s sponsor to slow its progress if issues arise.

“After the first reading, there were several questions,” she said. “I wanted to make sure that all those get answered. This usually would have been deferred out of courtesy.”

With no deferral out of committee, the bill moved to the full council for a second reading, where Barry again moved for a deferral. She was opposed by several members, including Council member Robert Duvall, who moved to table the deferral, an action that would mean a second-reading vote then and there.

“We want this bill voted up or down,” Duvall said. “I believe the deferral is a request because the sponsors don’t have enough votes to pass it. Too bad. Get this vote behind you.”

Several members rose to offer pros and cons on the bill, as well as to decry the lack of civility surrounding its movement through the chamber. Finally, the tabling motion was defeated by a vote of 14-22, and move to defer passed 22-13 with one abstention.

For supporters in the audience, the last-minute reprieve means a fierce two weeks of campaigning before the next council meeting on Aug. 18, said Chris Sanders, chairman of the Tennessee Equality Project.

“Our opponents showed tonight that they will do everything they can to stop this bill,” Sanders said. “They hate us worse than taxes. We have two weeks to out e-mail, out-call and out-strategize them.”

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