Last edited: March 27, 2004

Tennessee County Backtracks on Jailing Gays, March 19, 2004

By Newscenter Staff

Nashville, Tennessee—After a storm of media attention Rhea County retreated Thursday night from a call for the jailing of gays on charges of “crimes against nature”.

Within hours of a vote Tuesday by county commissioners to seek approval from the state to lay the charges (story) network television crews and newspaper reporters from around the country began pouring into the rural community about miles north of Chattanooga.

It was the most publicity the county had received since the “Scopes Monkey Trial” in 1925 where high school teacher John T. Scopes was convicted of teaching evolution and fined $100. The conviction was later overturned. But, the story later became the award winning movie “Inherit The Wind.”

On Tuesday Commissioner J-C Fugate, who proposed the measure made it perfectly clear. He wants to keep “homosexuals out of here.” And, his fellow commissioners agreed, voting unanimously to direct County Attorney Gary Fritts to find the best way to enact a local law banning gays from living in Rhea County.

After a day in the glare of the media spotlight commissioners were in full retreat and Thursday afternoon, claiming they had misunderstood the intent of the motion called an emergency meeting. (story)

County attorney Gary Fritts said the initial vote triggered a “wildfire” of reaction. “I’ve never seen nothing like this,” he said.

The meeting took only three minutes to rescind the measure.

Fritts advised the commissioners they cannot ban homosexuals or make them subject to criminal charges. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 struck down Texas’ sodomy laws as a violation of adults’ privacy.

Fritts said he doesn’t believe the issue will come up again.

“I think they got all the publicity they need about it,” he said.

All of the commissioners declined to comment following the meeting.

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