Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Holding the line another year

The 105th Tennessee General Assembly has adjourned for the year. The state's GLBT community is perhaps not the most relieved of all constituencies, but we're certainly not the least. For us, the session began, not in January, but in October 2007 when Attorney General Bob Cooper gave the opinion that there is no legal barrier to same-sex couples adopting. Some legislators immediately gave notice that they would attempt to ban same-sex adoption in 2008.

Instead, what we got was SB3910/HB3713 , which sought to ban all unmarried cohabiting couples (straight and gay) from adopting. Thankfully, this fiscal note of more than $4.5 Million in impact to the state appeared. In a tight budget year, a revelation like that began the bill's death march. But we think opposition to the substance of the bill also mattered. Our webmaster just told me today that members of the Tennessee Equality Project sent almost 13,000 emails through our system to legislators this session. We know that one of our allies generated at least 2000 emails on the adoption bill alone. So the level of citizen contact with lawmakers on GLBT issues spiked this year.

Of course, there was also SB3733/HB2997. No doubt many consituencies have a piece of legislation that they call the "Campfield bill." This one was ours. It attempted to prohibit discussion of any sexuality other than heterosexuality in grades K-8 of our public schools. After unconvincing attempts to prove that homosexuality is part of the state mandated curriculum in these grades (proving that it is sometimes part of curriculum used to train teachers is not the same thing as proving it is part of the curriculum from which children are instructed!) and an unfortunate incident in which the House K-12 subcommittee chair failed to take a roll call vote, the bill meandered into the oblivion of study by the Department of Education from which it hasn't reemerged. Some seemed outraged about the lack of roll call vote. For us, the most significant issue was not whether he had received his roll call vote, but rather the sad state of discourse about GLBT people in Tennessee. But it's up to us to improve that. So on it goes.

No anti-GLBT bill has been adopted by the General Assembly since 2005 when the marriage amendment passed both houses for a second time to head to the ballot where the voters approved it in 2006. There have been various attempts to pass bans on adoption, foster care, civil unions, and so on. Nothing has gone very far. At the same time, the few pieces of positive legislation that we have worked on have fizzled as well. It's a bit of stalemate.

We're already getting started on next year. TEP-PAC held a small fundraising reception last night. We hope to play a larger role in legislative races this summer and fall than we have before. That will be a critical piece in shifting from fighting negative legislation to advancing positive legislation.

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