UPDATE: Governor Haslam signed this bill into law on May 5, 2017.
Since the momentous U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell, which secured the freedom to marry for all people, state legislatures across the country have made numerous attempts to undermine LGBT equality.
SB 1085/HB 1111, sponsored by Sen. John Stevens and Rep. Andrew Farmer, would require that any undefined words in Tennessee law “be given their natural and ordinary meaning, without forced or subtle construction that would limit or extend the meaning of the language.”
In other words, under this bill, terms like “husband,” “wife,” mother” and “father” could only be interpreted as gender-specific under the law. While vague and overly broad, this bill amounts to yet another attempt to prevent full recognition of LGBT people and undermine their treatment as equal residents of our state.
If passed, this measure would invite confusion into the application and implementation of a wide range of laws, including those affecting education, family relationships, health care, and taxes.
As was recently pointed out by our state’s attorney general, this could force some Tennessee laws into conflict the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell, which ensured marriage equality for same-sex couples.
This measure also actually contradicts another part of Tennessee code that explicitly states that where gendered terms are used, they should be considered inclusive of all genders or neutral, unless otherwise explicitly written into that part of the law. This is not a new concept — that language has been present in Tennessee law for over one hundred years and it has not created problems so far.
This mean-spirited, clearly unnecessary and confusing bill has already passed the Tennessee General Assembly and our last chance to stop it is for Governor Haslam to veto it.