Tennessee County Seeks to Bar Gays
Advocate, March 18, 2004
Rhea County, Tenn., commissioners unanimously voted to
ask state lawmakers to introduce legislation amending Tennessee’s criminal
code so the county can charge gay men and lesbians with crimes against nature.
“We need to keep them out of here,” said Commissioner J.C. Fugate, who
introduced the motion. County attorney Gary Fritts also was asked by Fugate to
find the best way to enact a local law barring gays and lesbians from living
in Rhea County. Commissioners asked Fritts to bring a resolution requesting
the ban to next month’s commission meeting for another vote. Fugate said he
offered the crimes against nature measure, which wasn’t on the agenda,
because of recent national and state events concerning gay marriage. There was
little discussion before the 8-0 vote, and commissioners never discussed the
U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that struck down Texas’s sodomy law and
affirmed adults’ constitutionally protected right to private sexual conduct.
Matt Nevels, president of the Chattanooga chapter of
Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, said he knows of gay men
and lesbians and their parents who live in Rhea County. “That is the most
far-fetched idea put forth by any kind of public official,” Nevels said.
“I’m outraged.” Fugate’s motion prompted some spectators at the
commission hearing to applaud. Three of those who spoke before Fugate
introduced his motion advocated for prayer in schools and denounced drinking
alcohol and county zoning. The Rhea County action came after the state senate
judiciary committee voted 7-1 Tuesday for a bill that would prohibit legal
recognition of civil unions and domestic partnerships for gay couples in
Tennessee. Same-sex marriages already are prohibited in the state.
Rhea County, located about 30 miles north of Chattanooga,
is among the most conservative in Tennessee. It holds an annual festival
commemorating the 1925 trial that ended in the conviction of John T. Scopes on
charges of teaching evolution, a verdict thrown out by the Tennessee supreme
court on a technicality. The trial later became the subject of the play and
movie Inherit the Wind. In 2002 a federal judge ruled unconstitutional the
Rhea County school board’s Bible Education Ministry, a class taught in the
public schools by students from a Christian college.
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