In a recent interview, Nashville City Paper’s Jeff Woods pressed Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) on his recent decision to sign a bill overturning Nashville’s LGBT non-discrimination protections. The governor said while he doesn’t think businesses should discriminate against people based on sexual orientation, businesses already have “plenty of regulation” from the government and don’t need more. He also refused to comment on whether being gay is a choice or should be a protected class:
WOODS: Did you think about vetoing [the bill that overturned local nondiscrimination protections]?
HASLAM: Yes, we thought about a lot of things there, mainly because there are conflicting principles. I really do think local governments should be able to decide most things for themselves. I really do think that. And it bugged me as a mayor [in Knoxville] when [state legislators in] Nashville told us stuff to do. The flip side is, I honestly believe that businesses have plenty of regulation coming down on them from government. If you asked most Tennesseans, including most people in this restaurant, they’d say there are plenty of regulations. So you had two pretty conflicting philosophies wrapped up in one thing. In the end, it passed by 70 percent in both houses, so I signed it.
WOODS: What about gay rights? You have said you think businesses should adopt nondiscrimination policies that include gay people.
HASLAM: I think this. I’ve said a hundred times, I think the people who hire the best team are going to win. If you take any part of the population and say I’m not going to hire those people willfully, I don’t think that’s a really smart business plan. I think businesses should have diverse hiring practices. That’s really different, though, than having city governments tell businesses what their HR practices should be. Businesses are going to go out and hire the best people they can.
Haslam went on to say that he would be against adding sexual orientation as a protected class in the state’s laws and declined to comment on whether sexual orientation is a choice, saying, “In my role as governor, I just don’t think that’s a topic that we need to get into.”
Haslam also admitted that the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce supported the discriminatory bill right up until he signed it, then immediately changed their position. But, Haslam says, if they had changed their position sooner, he still probably would have signed it.