Today, HRC released the following statement condemning Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s decision to sign into law 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.
“Governor Haslam has chosen to put pure politics ahead of Tennessee’s women and LGBTQ people,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “This draconian measure will open the state up to many expensive legal challenges and divert state resources to defending an unnecessary, unconstitutional measure. The Governor should be ready to answer for the fallout signing this bill will cause.”
The new law requires courts and agencies apply a so-called “natural” meaning interpretation of gendered statutory language, including those involving the rights of husbands and wives. This draconian, unconstitutional bill directly conflicts 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 different-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 could 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 measure could create conflict with current state laws.
HRC has been working in partnership with the Tennessee Equality Project, ACLU of Tennessee, and the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition in speaking out against this legislation.