Lawsuit Alleges HB600 About Discrimination, Not ‘Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce’

A lawsuit is underway against the State of Tennessee over a recently-passed law that stripped local governments of their presumptive authority to enact anti-discrimination mandates on businesses within their jurisdiction.

The lawsuit hangs heavily on the assertion that “Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act of 2011,” despite being pitched as a regulatory playing-field leveler for businesses across the state, is rooted in hostility toward non-heterosexuals.

“HB600 was founded in prejudice and motivated by certain legislators’ desire to punish the city of Nashville for enacting an ordinance extending existing local protections to gay and transgender Tennesseans,” reads the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs, which include the Tennessee Equality Project, the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, three members of the Nashville-Davidson Metro Council, a high school student and teacher, and the Belmont University former soccer coach who parted ways with the school after revealing she was starting a family with her same-sex partner.

The 33-page lawsuit filed in the Davidson County Chancery Court specifically alleges the new law violates the Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment in U.S. Constitution and the Tennessee Constitution.

Article I, Section 8 of the Tennessee Constitution (pdf) reads, “(N)o man shall be taken or imprisoned, or disseized of his freehold, liberties or privileges, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any manner destroyed or deprived of his life, liberty or property, but by the judgment of his peers, or the law of the land.”

The Legislature voted on the measure in the last few weeks of the session, approving it 70-26 in the House and 20-8-1 in the Senate.

The complaint is the latest move in the six-month debate over discrimination policies in Nashville following the high-profile falling-out between Howe and the private Christian university after she announced to the students on her team that her partner was expecting a baby. After a public outcry, the Metro Council took up an ordinance banning city contractors from discriminating against gay, lesbian and transgender workers — it won approval in April.