In an almost mirror image of legislation attempted in Kansas, Tennessee is working on passing Senate Bill 2566, the "Turn Away Gays" bill, designed to allow open door business the ability to refuse access to LGBT.
The public, however, is waking up to these kind of end-runs and has worked hard to help put a stop to these kind of activities.
A Tennessee senator is under fire from a celebrity chef and other members of his district, after sponsoring a bill that would allow business owners to refuse service to gays.
Critically received Memphis chef Kelly English this week offered to host a political fundraiser to unseat Sen. Brian Kelsey after reading that the Republican party member had sponsored Senate Bill 2566, which would allow individuals or religious organizations with "strong religious beliefs" to refuse goods and services that further same-sex unions in Tennessee. It is commonly being referred to as the "Turn Away the Gays" bill.
"I learned about it probably 120 seconds before I posted my reaction on Facebook," chef English told ABC News in a phone interview on Friday. The proprietor of Restaurant Iris and The Second Line is married and straight, but he considers himself a proponent of human rights.
"It's crazy to me that people can still think this way in 2014," said the chef, who feels such bills reflect poorly on the state of Tennessee and foster an impression of intolerance in the South. "Some people have reacted to my announcement saying that I spoke out when I had nothing to gain and a lot to lose, but I disagree. If there is a lack of equality, as a species we all lose."
The public chef, small business owner and straight man came out to fight for the rights of his fellow citizens. What's interesting though is that once the idea of this having some real heat in opposition came about, senators began to fold.
Senator Kelsey's name has since been removed as the sponsor of the bill.Chef English nails this problem. The senator is trying to have it both ways, but in the end, he is still the one who was willing to introduce this legislation. He's the one that put it up for a vote and there is nothing stopping his mind from putting forward more legislation along this same line.
"I've heard mixed views from my constituents on this issue, and while I still believe in protecting the differing religious views of everyone in my district, I have decided not to sponsor this particular piece of legislation," he said in a statement released by his office.
But just because Sen. Mike Bell, of Riceville, is now the sponsor, English isn't backing off of Kelsey, who serves as chairman of the senate judiciary committee that will discuss the bill on Feb. 18.
"He's the one who presented the bill," said English. "I can take my name off of the restaurant but it's still my restaurant."
In the end, what we are learning is that the minds of politicians that forward this kind of legislation should not hold office. We're glad that they back away form this legislation once (when they get caught) but that isn't any sort of longterm answer.
After all, just because one senator takes his name off the bill doesn't mean others aren't ready to pick it up.
“I think it’s more wrong to force people to violate their conscience,” he told the Tennesseean, than to ask them not to deny service to whole swaths of society.Frankly, there are a lot of other issues I wish Democrats could put a lot of fight in. Like the economic rebound of state economies; working to find better wages; etc.
Conservatives are peddling these types of bills in a number of states where wedding professionals have been sued for refusing to provide services to same-sex weddings. The anti-LGBT businesses insist that practicing their company policies equally and fairly for all people across the board is a greater strain on their faith than they should be asked to bear.
But it seems to me that as long as Republicans are intent on going back to remedial school on basic human rights, then this is the ground they want to fight on. In 2004 members of the press went after Gay Rights issues as harming the democrats. But nothing does more harm to a brand then backing discrimination against the will of the public.
So, for those in Tennessee, I'd urge you to be active, put some heat on this.. let your representatives know.
And, if you're in Memphis, you might see if Kelly English restaurant have a table. I understand it's not always cheap, so maybe not for everyone, but I'd raise a glass in his establishment any day of the week.
3:30 PM PT: Update: Victory! Of a sorts. The bill has been killed in the Judiciary, however, state Republicans issued this statement today:
A news release from the Tennessee Senate Republican caucus said “The Religious Freedom Act will protect Tennesseans from being dragged into court for their sincerely held religious beliefs regarding marriage.”State Republicans have said they will consider revising this legislation and trying again at a later date.
But for now, celebrate a bit of victory!