A Republican state senator in Tennessee
has withdrawn a bill that sought to allow businesses and individuals
to discriminate against gays.
At a Senate hearing Tuesday on the
measure, Senator Mike Bell, who took over as lead sponsor of the
legislation last week, announced that the bill, dubbed the “Turn
the Gays Away” bill, was not needed and pulled it from
“I'm convinced that current Tennessee
law protects our business owners from the type of lawsuit harassment
we've seen in other states,” Bell said during the meeting, a
reference to an existing state law that allows business owners to
refuse service to customers whose conduct they deem offensive.
In a statement, Rep. Bill Dunn, the
measure's Republican sponsor in the House, agreed with Bell.
“I agree with Sen. Bell's analysis
that presently Tennesseans cannot be forced to needlessly participate
in activities that violate their sincere, constitutionally protected,
religious beliefs,” Dunn said. “Therefore his action today was
understandable and makes perfect sense.”
The bill sought to permit “persons
and religious or denominational organizations” to refuse to provide
“services or goods in furtherance of a civil union, domestic
partnership, or marriage not recognized by the Tennessee
A constitutional amendment banning gay
marriage was overwhelmingly (81%) approved by voters in 2006.
LGBT rights advocate the Tennessee
Equality Project organized a protest involving dozens of
demonstrators attending the hearing dressed in red.
“They think they found a solution for
the time being, and we'll see how that plays out over the next year,”
Chris Sanders, the group's executive director, told The
Tennessean. “They may be able to turn individuals away.
What we're glad of is the state didn't step in and establish a class
of people against whom you could discriminate.”