There's a lot of talk in the national media about what's next. Some of it seems spot on. Some of it feels far away from Tennessee. Here are some items to provide a sense of what's next in Tennessee.
1. Finishing the job on marriage equality in Tennessee. The Supreme Court ruling was the end of one process and the beginning of another. It struck down state bans on marriage by same-sex couples, but it didn't guarantee quick implementation, as we saw in many states. TEP marriage sentinels worked hard to monitor the compliance of county clerks around the state and, with the Decatur County situation resolved, we're at 100%. DMV compliance is high and fully supported at Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security headquarters. State government and University of Tennessee system employees are getting equal benefits and Tennessee Board of Regents schools have also begun the process. Local government employees are beginning to get notification that they are included, too. We need to continue to monitor all these developments, but Tennessee is standing out in its implementation of the Supreme Court ruling.
2. Avoiding a special legislative session. The day of the marriage ruling, some members of the Tennessee House began calling for a special session in order to advance bills designed to curtail the access to and benefits of marriage for same-sex couples. It appears we may avoid a special session, and I am proud of the work the Tennessee Equality Project policy team did in reaching out to legislative leaders, even during the holiday. So part of "what's next" is doing all we can to avoid a rush to legislative discrimination.
3. Negative bills will eventually come, though. Even if we avoid a special legislative session, we can expect negative bills allegedly designed to protect pastors, businesses, and even county clerks from the marriage ruling. It will take an incredible effort to defeat them.
4. Local advances. I don't see much prospect for positive state legislation when the General Assembly convenes. But we can advance a strong and positive agenda in county and city governments. You can check out our ideas here. And right now there are things we can do to bring back Chattanooga's non-discrimination ordinance!
5. Comprehensive human rights protections. We need sexual orientation and gender identity added to laws against discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, etc. As I noted, I would not expect them at the state level. Even at the federal level, the climb is steep. There are steps we can take to make ourselves safer here and now, though. We can expand the Tennessee Open For Business network, which is the best way for businesses throughout the state to show they don't discriminate. Your business can join at this link. And we can advance inclusive anti-bullying protections in local school districts around the state, as I mentioned in the local advocacy agenda mentioned previously.
We all know there is plenty of work to do. It's time to use our momentum to consolidate the marriage victory, hang on through the storm of negative legislation, and make even more progress where we can. Your contributions can help at this link.