Tennessee Republicans are promising to use their first elected majority in more than a century to demand constitutional bans on gay marriage and restrictions on abortion rights when the session opens Tuesday. Senate Republicans say their priority will be to use their electoral gains to push their perceived advantage on the so-called moral issues, using them to pigeonhole Democrats as out-of-touch liberals.
The idea that state Democrats are that liberal is hogwash, says Jimmy Naifeh, speaker of the state house, where the Democrats still hold a majority. "I think you have probably got a more conservative group of Democrats in the house than you will find in most states," Naifeh said.
November's election left the GOP with a 17-16 majority in the senate, the first elected advantage since Reconstruction; Democrats have a 53-46 lead in the house. But lawmakers said there shouldn't be too much trouble between a Republican senate and Democrat governor Phil Bredesen or the Democrats who run the house.
"Since the senate has traditionally been more conservative than the house on social issues, I don't think there will be any more acrimony in the senate on these issues than in previous years," Sen. David Fowler wrote in response to an Associated Press survey.
The gay marriage ban is expected to clear both chambers with the required two-thirds support and get to voters after having cleared its first hurdle last year, lawmakers said. Supporters say it's necessary to have language in the constitution so that courts can't trump state law on the matter. "The amendment does not ban gay marriage but keeps marriage the way it is," Rep. Bill Dunn, who sponsored the measure in the house last year, wrote in response to an Associated Press survey.
Even Democrats who say they think it's a bad idea to clutter the Tennessee constitution with a bunch of amendments related to specific social issues say they plan to vote for the ban on gay marriage. "Its going to pass overwhelmingly," Naifeh said. "You get stuck--if you vote against that, then you are for gay marriages. It doesn't matter what you do and say--if they want to tell lies on you, they are going to do it anyway."