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Marriage Ban, Bathroom Bill Resurface in Tennessee

Mae Beavers and Mark Pody
From left: Mae Beavers and Mark Pody

Similar legislation has failed before, but right-wing lawmakers are trying again.

Bills that would ban same-sex marriage and restrict transgender public school students' access to restrooms have once again been introduced in the Tennessee legislature.

The marriage bill, titled the Natural Marriage Defense Act, would define marriage in the state as an exclusively male-female union, regardless of what any court decides, therefore saying the state would ignore the 2015 Supreme Court marriage equality ruling -- a move that would undoubtedly be found unconstitutional. The restroom bill, which doesn't appear to have a formal title, would require students to use restrooms and locker rooms designated for the gender on their birth certificate.

Similar bills have failed in the past, but that's not stopping far-right legislators from trying again. Both were introduced by Mark Pody in the Tennessee House of Representatives and Mae Beavers in the state Senate, the Nashville Scene reports. Both sponsored the similar marriage bill last year; Pody once said God had called him to stop same-sex marriages. The legislation was killed by a House subcommittee. Rep. Susan Lynn introduced the restroom bill last year, but eventually withdrew it, amid much public outcry against it.

Beavers and Pody are also sponsoring a "personhood" bill, which would entitle a fertilized egg to "all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood," therefore outlawing abortion and some forms of contraception that prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb.

"The good news is the marriage bill and personhood bills are almost certain to die in committee," the Scene reports. "The bathroom bill is less certain to die, but businesses -- and their lobbyists -- will most certainly sway some legislators who might be personally terrified by a trans threat but even more terrified by a future lack of PAC donations." The paper, an alternative weekly, used the term "trans threat" satirically.

Last year executives of 60 companies with operations in Tennessee sent state leaders a letter opposing the restroom bill, and the state's attorney general warned that it could result in Tennessee losing federal funding. And the backlash against a similar law in North Carolina was not lost on lawmakers either.

Regarding the new bill, "Obviously the personal impact on trans students is devastating," Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, told The Tennessean, a Nashville daily. "What it will result in is them going to the wrong restroom or going to a special restroom that will out them as trans and stigmatize them or put a target on them for bullying."

"When transgender students go to the bathroom they do what everybody else does," he added. "They go to the bathroom. They're not trying to spy on somebody."

Opponents of both bills hoped to discuss them at a town hall meeting Pody and Beavers held Thursday night in Mount Juliet, a community in their district, but the lawmakers said they would deal only with the state gas tax in the session and would hold a press conference on the other legislation next week. Daryn Jackson, who attended the town hall with her girlfriend, expressed frustration.

"We have taken time out of our evenings and away from our families to come here," she said, according to Knoxville TV station WATE. "To voice some very real concerns we have about our families." Although the marriage issue has been settled nationally, she said, "I have friends that are rightfully concerned for their marriages."

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