Last edited: March 27, 2004

Tennessee County Retreats From Gay Ban

Associated Press, March 19, 2004

By Bill Poovey

DAYTON, Tenn.—The county that was the site of the Scopes “Monkey Trial” over the teaching of evolution Thursday reversed its call to ban homosexuals.

Rhea County commissioners took about three minutes to retreat from a request to amend state law so the county can charge homosexuals with crimes against nature. The Tuesday measure passed 8-0.

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

But Fritts said it was all a misunderstanding.

“They wanted to send a message to our (state) representative and senator that Rhea County supports the ban on same-sex marriage,” he said. “Same-sex marriage is what it was all about. It was to stop people from coming here and getting married and living in Rhea County.”

Not that the issue of banning homosexuals didn’t arise.

“I’m not saying it wasn’t discussed,” Fritts said. “Sometimes you had five or six people talking.”

Fritts said he 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 Thursday.

Social worker Esther Jackson, 24—one of 300 people who attended Thursday’s meeting—held a sign reading: “Breed Love, Not Hate.”

“It’s just ignorance is all,” she said of Tuesday’s vote.

But 12-year-old Caitlin Kinney, attending the meeting with her mother, said she supported the commissioners’ initial vote.

“I think they should go further, try to see if they can ban them,” she said. “It’s not a Christian thing.”

The politically conservative county holds an annual festival commemorating the 1925 trial at which high school teacher John T. Scopes was convicted of teaching evolution. The verdict was reversed on a technicality, and the trial became the subject of the play and movie “Inherit the Wind.”

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