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Emails Show Effort to Avoid Gay Link in Tenn. Bill

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The main lobbyist for a state law that overruled local protections for gay and lesbian workers led an orchestrated effort to portray the bill as being about best business practices rather than opposition to homosexuality.

Emails to lawmakers from Family Action Council of Tennessee President David Fowler came to light as part of a lawsuit challenging the Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act, signed into law in May.

Fowler told The Tennessean he did what any good lobbyist would do in providing lawmakers with arguments that could garner support for the bill.

It prohibits local governments from creating anti-discrimination regulations that are stricter than those of the state. The law nullified a Nashville ordinance that had passed in April barring companies that discriminate against gays and lesbians from doing business with the city.

During the 2011 legislative season Fowler expressed to legislators his concern that Nashville’s ordinance would force Christian business owners to compromise their religious beliefs in order to do business with Metro.

However, he coached lawmakers to stick with the economic argument, and he provided them with statements denying that the law was “about preventing homosexual and transgender rights.”

On April 26, Fowler wrote to Sen. Mae Beavers, “We don’t need more regulation of business and business sure doesn’t need the 348 different cities coming up with their own ideas of what a discriminatory practice is. That’s the line and you just repeat it like (Rep.) Glen Casada did last night when the bill passed the House 73 to 24.

“Will the homosexuals be upset? Sure.”

Casada, R-Franklin, and Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, sponsored the legislation.

Some of Fowler’s emails contained admonitions not to pass them along to anyone.

A Jan. 29 email to state Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, describes efforts to persuade the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce to oppose Nashville’s ordinance.

“We sure don’t need any loose lips getting word to the Chamber about what I think and for sure not (the Tennessee Equality Project)!” it states.

The Equality Project advocates for the equality of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. The group is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed in Davidson County Chancery Court in June. Other plaintiffs include Lisa Howe, a former Belmont University soccer coach whose departure from the private Christian university was the impetus for the city’s ordinance and three members of city council who supported the ordinance.

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