Tenn. Smacks Down Local Anti-discrimination Laws

Marshall Thompson

Last week Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee signed a new state law that prohibits local governments from passing their own anti-discrimination laws.  The bill comes in response to a Nashville ordinance prohibiting housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

According to Businessweek Haslam said, “We’re not in favor of discrimination in any form at all.  We just think that businesses should get to decide for themselves what they have in their policies.”

That’s brilliant.  Why didn’t we just use that solution with slavery and jim crow laws?  Instead of a Civil War Amendments the federal government could have just said, “Listen businesses, you really shouldn’t use slave labor or discriminate on the basis of race, but we’re going to let you decide what’s best for your bottom line.”

The action also highlights the hypocrisy of modern conservatives when it comes to federalism.  States’ rights are arguably important because they allow for experimentation and competition.  They also allow affected citizens more direct access to the policymakers.  If those truly are good things, then why mess with local government?

Proponents of the new law have argued that it was designed to keep uniform employment and housing regulations.  If that’s true, then the only question now is, “When will the Tennessee Legislature pass state-wide anti-discrimination laws?” Otherwise, it appears to be what many opponents have label it: an anti-gay law.

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