ARKANSAS: Little Rock Approves LGBT Rights Bill Despite New Statewide Ban
Little Rock officials voted Tuesday to prohibit the city and companies contracting with it from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity, challenging a new Arkansas law criticized as anti-gay. The ordinance approved by the city's board on a 7-2 vote bans discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in hiring and city services, including those offered through outside vendors. Little Rock is among several Arkansas cities trying to expand anti-discrimination protections after the state faced a backlash over religious objections measures that critics said were discriminatory. Supporters say the move is needed to counter the impression left by the state adopting those laws. "I think we're sending a message that we're a welcoming community, that we're diverse, that we realize that's good for business, that we value all of our citizens," said City Director Kathy Webb, the sponsor of the proposal. "I think that's very important to make that kind of statement for Little Rock."Earlier this year Arkansas joined Tennessee in banning municipalities from including sexual orientation and gender identity in local anti-discrimination ordinances. Yesterday's vote by Little Rock officials could set the stage for challenging these bans. A similar ordinance in Fayetteville, Arkansas was repealed in December after an anti-LGBT campaign led by the Duggar family.
More about last night's vote from the Arkansas Times:
After the vote, ACLU staff attorney Holly Dickson said that the measure, while not as broad as the LGBT protection ordinance in Eureka Springs, is a positive step toward a better Little Rock. "It's a great day for Little Rock," Dickson said. "We're sending the right message to the people who live here, to the people in our state and to people around the world: that we welcome everyone and we want to treat everyone fairly and equally." Dickson said the way the measure is written, it would be hard to foresee it being brought to the ballot as seen with the repeal of 119 in Fayetteville. "We'll have to wait and see," she said. "It's hard to see how somebody could really take issue, but there again, anything is possible."
Barbara Mariani of the Stonewall Democrats was all smiles as well, concurring with Dickson that the Little Rock measure isn't as open to a ballot challenge as the Fayetteville Ordinance. "I think the wording of this ordinance is very different, and so the legal issues are different and the arguments are different. It's a little bit harder to argue against this one. The Fayetteville ordinance was very hard to understand. This one is very clean, and I think it'll help a lot of people understand it better. So hopefully you won't get as many objections."