Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a law on Friday that restricts the way words can be defined under state law and severe ramification to the LGBT community when it comes to same sex marriage and adoption rights.
The bill, known as House Bill 1111 or Senate Bill 1085, has caused controversy over its mandate to interpret words in the state code only by their “natural and ordinary” meanings. Conservative groups who lobbied for the law, like the Family Action Council of Tennessee, have said that it will help prevent same-sex spouses and LGBT parents from being treated the same as heterosexual families under the law.
“Undefined words shall be given their natural and ordinary meaning,” the law reads, “without forced or subtle construction that would limit or extend the meaning of the language, except when a contrary intention is clearly manifest.”
According to a February YouTube video by the Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT), the current law replaced a more controversial law the group helped submit in January.
Tennessee Senate Bill 30 explicitly mandated that “the words ‘husband,’ ‘wife,’ ‘mother,’ and ‘father’ be given their natural and ordinary meaning, without forced or subtle construction that would limit or extend the meaning of the language and that are based on the biological distinctions between men and women.”
“It just says all undefined words in the code shall be given their normal and ordinary meaning. When we say husband, we mean a man. When we use the word father, we mean a man,” said Fowler in the video. “And this is an attempt to tell the court, in cases like Knoxville and in future cases, when we use a word, we mean for it to mean what everybody thinks it means. And if that word makes the law unconstitutional, so be it.”
Haslam issued a statement shortly after signing the law; “I do not believe the legislation accomplishes anything that isn’t already relied upon by the courts, even after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision in 2015,” said Haslam. “And if a potential conflict did arise, the Tennessee Attorney General has opined that a court could resolve it through other statutory interpretation rules.”
Tennessee’s Republican Attorney General, Herbert Slatery, has already stated that that S.B. 1085 could provoke a challenge to same-sex marriage.