The Tennessee Senate passed HB 1111—a measure that could undermine certain protections under state law for women and LGBTQ people in a shameful effort to challenge the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision on marriage equality. The bill now heads to Governor Bill Haslam’s desk.
The measure would require that courts and agencies apply a so-called “natural” meaning interpretation of gendered statutory language, including those involving the rights of husbands and wives. This unconstitutional proposal would be in direct conflict with state and federal law that requires gender-specific words be interpreted as gender-inclusive.
The measure could have both intended and unintended consequences. For example, a woman may not be able to place her wife’s name on the birth certificate of their child. In court proceedings, a married opposite-sex couple could be entitled to confidential communications, but not a married same-sex couple. The measure could even prohibit surrogacy for same-sex couples.
It could have consequences beyond the LGBTQ community as well. It would impact state constitutional protections for women by prohibiting state courts from reading the term “man” to also include “woman.” The Tennessee law requiring no “man’s” services or property be taken without consent or compensation, for example, could suddenly be interpreted to exclude women from these same protections.
Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery issued an opinion stating the proposed bill could create conflict with current state laws.
“In a shameful haste to undermine marriage equality, the Tennessee State Legislature is opening a Pandora’s box of harmful consequences that could impact more than just the LGBTQ community,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “This measure would no doubt result in multiple, expensive legal challenges, forcing the state to divert crucial resources that need to be focused on other truly important issues. Governor Bill Haslam must protect the state from the fallout and veto this bill.”