For longer than I would care to admit, I have been hearing from my Libertarian and Republican friends about the woes of big government, most particularly, about the intrusive nature of the Federal Government on the rights of states. These folks complain about the federally imposed mandates placed upon them, arguing that the Federal government reaches far beyond what the constitutional framers ever intended, and that many if not most issues should be left up to local politicians at the state and city level. After all, they say, we have a better sense of our local context, our local financial situation, and the unique character of our state. Why, they continue, should a one size fits all solution be imposed willy nilly on us without consideration of who we are?
Unfortunately it seems, these same “states right / smaller government” disciples don’t really seem to believe it when it comes to allowing local municipalities self determination regarding the values and priorities of those communities. No, for some reason it seems that when a local community chooses a path that these upholders of liberty don’t like, they seem to have no problem in creating a state mandate on that local municipality which trumps the will of the people. Such is the case of Glen Casada’s bill to repeal the Metro Nashville Can-Do ordinance.
There is a danger for those who support the Can-Do ordinance to make this simply about legal rights for homosexual persons, which was indeed the case at the local level. However, now that the issue has moved to the state, there is a deeper, more troubling issue at play: the ability of the state legislature to overturn the decisions of a local government at any time simply because they don’t like it. This has far reaching implications for the conduct of our public life, and represents a huge disconnect between the rhetoric of greater self determination on the part of the right wing, and the reality that they don’t want freedom but rather conformity to their narrow vision of life in our state.
Representative Casada, now echoed by Speaker Harwell, suggest that the state’s interest in this is purely economic – that ordinances like the Non-discriminiation Ordinance enacted by the Metro Council, will undermine the economic vitality of the state and lead to ruin. Thus, in order to prevent the clueless liberals of Nashville from enacting such horrific legislation, they are justified in writing state law in a way which denies the elected representatives the right to determine how the city will conduct it’s business.
That justification (which is, I believe, a smokescreen for the fact that they simply don’t want to offer the same protections to gays that the rest of us receive) is problematic for taken to its logical conclusion, the state could enact legislation to override ANY decision of a local which it determines undermines the economic vitality of the state. Thus, let’s suppose that a Democratic mayor and council determine that they think rezoning a piece of property for economic development – let’s say, in the Bells Bend area for example – is not desirable for the city. The council in a heated debate determines by a close vote that building an office park on the last vestiges of open land in Davidson County is not consistent with our vision for the city, and refuses to zone the property for that economic development. Using the logic of Rep. Casada and Speaker Harwell, it would then be within the scope of state policy to create legislation forbidding Metro from keeping that property from being developed. After all, our Republican brethren might say, there are dollars to be made here, and it would be economic suicide to not let Mr. May do what he wants with his property and pave over that prime meadow land.
Using the Casadan logic, there really isn’t much of ANYTHING that the state can’t trump over a local municipality if it chooses to do so.
Look, I am not asking Rep. Casada or Speaker Harwell, nor for that matter any of my conserving friends to agree with the Can-Do legislation. While I am a part of a religious tradition that upholds equal rights for all people, I understand that there are some who differ with that belief, and they are certainly welcome and encouraged to make their case in the court of public opinion and in the minds of elected officials about the proper course of action.
But in this case, the people of Nashville, through their elected officials, have acted. You may disagree with the actions of the Metro Council, and thus have every right to try and vote folks who you think are out of step with your beliefs out of office. However, understand that the state, through the legislation of Rep. Casada, are trying to take away our right as a city to make decisions about how we will conduct our business. The people have spoken and the ordinance is law, but other folks in the state – folks who don’t live in Nashville, who don’t pay taxes in Nashville, some of whom (like Rep. Casada) enjoy the benefits of living near a big city while rarely contributing to our economic well being – those folks are telling us that we can’t determine the character and values of our city, that we can’t decide that we will be a more open and welcoming place, and that our decisions are invalid because they don’t conform to their will. In doing so, all their rhetoric about freedom for all and about maintaining the right of self determination flies straight out the window.
This is no longer about sexuality. It’s about respecting the right of a city to define who we are.