TN Lawmakers Vote to Undermine Protections for Women & LGBTQ People in Effort to Challenge Marriage

HRC condemned a vote by the Tennessee Senate passing 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.

“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.”

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.

HRC has been working in partnership with the Tennessee Equality Project, ACLU of Tennessee, and the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition in working to stop this legislation from becoming law.

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Louisiana House Committee Advances LGBTQ-Inclusive Domestic Violence Bill

Post submitted by Ryan Wilson, HRC Associate Regional Field Director

Louisiana’s legislative session began just a few weeks ago and today members of the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice voted to advance HB27, which was introduced by Representative Patrick Connick. This simple bill updates Louisiana’s state domestic violence law to remove the phrase “opposite sex” from the references to household and family members. Marriage equality came to Louisiana in 2015 after the Supreme Court of the United States ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.

Louisiana is only one of a handful of states where the law specifically singles out opposite sex partners in the state’s domestic violence statute, making it harder for prosecutors and victim advocates to address domestic violence situations in same-sex households. As Representative Barbara Norton (D- District 3) stated during in the hearing to the bill’s sponsor, “If that is the logistics of your bill, that everyone is protected in spite of who they are or what they represent, then you certainly have my support”.

At the hearing today, a number of agencies that support victims of domestic violence submitted cards in support of the bill.

“All couples should be treated fairly and equitably under the law, regardless of who they love. Today was another step forward to bringing full lived equality to Louisianans,” Sarah Jane Guidry, Executive Director of Forum for Equality, who was at the hearing told HRC. “It should be noted that this bill passed out of committee with no opposition, which highlights the important incremental changes we are seeing at the Louisiana legislature when it comes to LGBTQ rights.”   

Also there to support the bill was Don-Paul Landry, who serves on HRC’s Louisiana steering committee based in New Orleans.

“I’m a criminal defense attorney and am generally opposed to minimum sentences and conditions,” Landry explained to HRC. “However, I also handle domestic matters and am painfully aware of the seriousness and prevalence of domestic violence. The protections provided in the Louisiana Domestic Violence Statute are designed to prevent an escalation by mandating counseling and other treatment. Victims in same sex relationships should be afforded the same protections as victims in opposite sex relationships. Passage of this bill will be a tremendous victory for LGBTQ people’s equal treatment under the law.”

The bill now heads to the Louisiana House of Representatives for consideration. Louisiana is the only state in the Southern U.S. that did not introduce anti-LGBTQ legislation this year. This pro-equality bill is also one of a handful of pro-LGBTQ bills to move out of committee in the region. HRC will continue to support the work of Forum for Equality and state partners like the ACLU of Louisiana as they work to advance pro-LGBTQ legislation in their state.

Forum for Equality is Louisiana’s LGBT human rights organization dedicated to the establishment of a society free from discrimination and to the support of good government. We believe that the fastest and most efficient way to achieve our goals is through community organization, education, and constructive participation in the political process. Since 1989, Forum has been active in Louisiana by helping to pass civil rights advancements for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

For more information about how to get involved in HRC Louisiana efforts, contact HRC’s Associate Regional Field Director for the Southern US, Ryan Wilson at ryan.wilson@hrc.org.  

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Bannon Removal from National Security Council a Victory for American Ideals

New York City—Human Rights First today welcomed reports that Stephen Bannon, chief strategist to President Trump, has been removed from the National Security Council. Prior to his White House appointment, Bannon served as the executive chairman of Breitbart News, a website that has promoted racist, antisemitic, and white-nationalist ideologies.   

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Ruling Affirms Civil Rights Laws Protect Employees from Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation

Today, HRC hailed a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit finding that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act includes protections based on sexual orientation. This decision marks the first time a federal appellate court has ruled this way and reverses a previous decision made in July.

“This critically important Circuit Court decision has adopted a well-grounded legal analysis concluding that our nation’s civil rights laws include sexual orientation,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “Today’s ruling is a monumental victory for fairness in the workplace, and for the dignity of lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans who may live in fear of losing their job based on whom they love. This court joins five others that have ruled these laws also prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity. We congratulate plaintiff Kimberly Hively, Lambda Legal and all the attorneys who helped achieve this victory.”

The Hively case stems from a lawsuit brought by Indiana teacher Kimberly Hively, who alleged  that Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend did not offer her a full-time position because she is a lesbian. She was represented in the case by Gregory Nevins of Lambda Legal.

HRC holds the view that Title VII protects LGBTQ employees. Three successful legal efforts — all led by Lambda Legal — in federal courts in Seattle, Chicago, and Washington D.C., were cited by the EEOC in Baldwin v. Foxx in 2015. In that decision, the EEOC concluded that sexual orientation “inherently” involves sex-based considerations, and so sexual orientation discrimination claims are “necessarily” claims under Title VII.

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State Department Calls for Independent Investigation into LGBT Murders in Chechnya 

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today welcomed comments from State Department officials calling on the Russian government to independently investigate the recent murders and mass arrests of gay men in Chechnya, and calls on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to urge Russia to hold the perpetrators of the assault on the Chechen lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community accountable during his upcoming with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow on April 12. The State Department spokesman made the comment in response to a&n

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