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.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

No clout

That's what Pete Kotz says over at the Nashville Scene about "gays" in Tennessee in his discussion of the proposed adoption ban legislation filed by Sen. Paul Stanley (R-Cordova). But before we get to that, let's give thanks.

First, I'm glad the Scene noticed the bill. I'm not surprised. They've consistently paid attention to GLBT issues. But I don't take it for granted because they don't have to cover these issues and lots of outlets won't even notice the ban until it comes time for a committee vote, if then. Second, I'm glad they're on our side. They don't pull any punches about nonsensical legislation like this. They're probably a lot more direct about these matters than even those of us at TEP are. Lobbying organizations, after all, are tempted to be too nice. So it's always a little gratifying when someone says aloud what you're thinking.

So what about this issue of gay clout in Tennessee? First, let's not lose the fact that while we're probably the most obvious group opposed to this legislation, it affects straight people too. It's about all couples cohabiting outside marriage. I don't think unmarried straight couples have much of a lobby in Tennessee, but I confess I haven't looked at every record at the Tennessee Ethics Commission. Maybe they should get one, though. Second, if this bill is defeated, child welfare clout and budget clout will come into play. Large numbers of children waiting to be adopted and the hefty fiscal note the bill carried last year should give everyone pause. Those two factors certainly were in play last year.

But let's deal with the issue of clout head on. Like just about anybody's clout, the Tennessee GLBT community's influence is regional and occasional. It's a political presence in the larger cities alongside several other interests. The results make the point. Other than the marriage amendment, no discriminatory legislation has passed the General Assembly since 2005. Lots of bills have been proposed, and you don't beat them without having a few friends. On the other hand, the influence required to pass positive state legislation is clearly lacking.

At the local level in Memphis and Nashville, it hasn't been hard finding candidates who seek and value our endorsement. In many ways, we've become just one among dozens of other interest groups that vet and support candidates. We're not king-makers, but we are a piece of the puzzle in some districts. The real test is the advancement of legislation. There are steady advances in Memphis and Nashville, but nothing concrete yet. I believe that if nondiscrimination ordinances pass in these two cities this year, you'll see a steady increase in our community's political activity around the State. Clout is something you build, but we're not starting from zero.

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