Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill May 23 that prohibits cities and counties from having anti-discrimination laws or policies that go beyond the protections offered by state law.
It says, "No local government shall by ordinance, resolution, or any other means impose on or make applicable to any person an anti-discrimination practice, standard, definition, or provision that shall deviate from, modify, supplement, add to, change, or vary in any manner from" state law.
The statute targets a Nashville law that prohibited "Metropolitan Government contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity through their employment practices."
The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry and several corporations initially supported the bill but, following complaints from LGBT activists, backed away from it, to a greater or lesser degree.
"The Tennessee Chamber supports a standard regulatory environment at the state level as opposed to potentially conflicting local regulations covering employment practices," the group said in a unanimous May 23 decision. "That principle was the only interest the Chamber had in this bill. Because HB600/SB632 has turned into a debate on diversity and inclusiveness -- principles which we support -- we are now officially opposing this legislation in its present form."
Companies that publicly disavowed the measure, some more strongly than others, included Alcoa, AT&T, Comcast, FedEx, KPMG, Pfizer, UnitedHealth Group, and Whirlpool, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
"Discrimination should have no place in the Volunteer State, and the Chamber's opposition to this law sent a strong signal that corporations are on the leading edge of positive change," said HRC President Joe Solmonese. "In contrast, Gov. Haslam has put discrimination ahead of the state's values and even business interests by signing this horrible legislation."