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Tennessee passes 'natural and ordinary meaning' bill

The legislation requires use of the "natural and ordinary meaning" of undefined words in state law.
Photo credit:
churchmilitant.com

Some people are not only worried about a bill passed by the Tennessee Senate today (HB 1111), but they aren’t exactly clear on what it means.

The legislation requires use of the "natural and ordinary meaning" of undefined words in state law.

Activists think this is not a way of getting around the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, but by requiring a “natural” meaning to language using traditional gender monikers it could deny same-sex couples and their children access to some of the rights and benefits included in marriage. 

 For instance in California it used to be that same-sex couples who adopted a child had only two options on the birth certificate: mother or father. In 2016, that was changed to the more gender-inclusive term "parent."

This new legislation in Tennessee may mean that gender markers would also need to match the sex of the person listed.

Also it should be noted that Tennessee is the only state in which the gender of an individual cannot be changed on their brith certificate even after gender-reassignment surgery. 

Here is the HB 111 as it is written

SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 1-3-105, is amended by redesignating the current section as subsection (a) and adding the following new subsection (b):

(b) As used in this code, undefined words shall be given their natural and ordinary meaning, without forced or subtle construction that would limit or extend the meaning of the language, except when a contrary intention is clearly manifest.

SECTION 2. This act shall take effect upon becoming a law, the public welfare requiring

The Human Rights Campaign has criticized this bill calling it unconstitutional because gender specific language should be gender-inclusive.

“In a shameful haste to undermine marriage equality, the Tennessee State Legislature is opening a Pandora's box of harmful consequences that could impact more than just the LGBTQ community,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “This measure would no doubt result in multiple, expensive legal challenges, forcing the state to divert crucial resources that need to be focused on other truly important issues. Governor Bill Haslam must protect the state from the fallout and veto this bill.”

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery is also of the opinion that the legislation could conflict with same-sex marriage legal certificates and the transgender community. 

He said a judge may use gender-inclusive interpretations of words like "husband," ''wife," ''father" and "mother."

The measure, now heads to Republican Governor Bill Haslam’s desk for signing.