Fayetteville voters approve LGBT anti-discrimination law

by Caleb Yarbrough/Arkansas Baptist News, posted Wednesday, September 09, 2015 (3 years ago)

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (BP) -- Fayetteville citizens voted to ratify the city's Uniform Civil Rights Protection ordinance -- that now protects the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community -- by a slim margin Tuesday (Sept. 8).

Originally passed by the city council June 16, the law is a revised version of a law that the council passed in August 2014 and was then repealed by a popular vote last December. The new law is set to take effect Nov. 7 and "prohibits discrimination in employment, housing or places of public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity," the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

The Democrat-Gazette also reported that the law would create a seven-member Civil Rights Commission, appointed by the Fayetteville City Council, which will review complaints covered by the ordinance.

Protect Fayetteville, a group who opposes the law, filed a lawsuit Aug. 31. They alleged the ordinance should be voided due to procedural issues on behalf of the City Council and because the state's Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act, or Act 137, prohibits municipalities and counties in the state from making laws that create protected classes or prohibit discrimination on a basis other than the criteria contained in the Arkansas constitution.

Ron Lomax, director of missions for the Washington Madison Baptist Association in Fayetteville, cited Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's recent opinion regarding Act 137.

According to KFSM-TV reports, "Rutledge issued an opinion Tuesday (Sept. 1) stating civil rights ordinances passed by any county, municipality or other political subdivision in the state are not enforceable under the Intrastate Commerce [Improvement] Act."

Lomax said he believed the reason the Fayetteville anti-discrimination law passed was because many individuals who opposed it considered opposition unnecessary due to the legal superiority of Act 137.

Proponents of the Uniform Civil Rights Protection ordinance dispute the claim that the law is incompatible with Arkansas state law.

"Attorney General Rutledge's opinion bears no weight as a legal precedent. It is still up to a judge to decide the issue. Her opinion is just that -- an opinion of one lawyer," Danielle Weatherby, assistant professor of law at the University of Arkansas School of Law and executive committee member of For Fayetteville, a group who advocated for the Fayetteville ordinance, told KFSM-TV.

Duncan Campbell, of Protect Fayetteville, believes Rutledge's opinion reinforces his group's claims.

"I think it means a lot," Campbell told KFSM-TV. "The attorney general, the highest attorney in the state, agrees with us. This election is illegal, just like the ordinance is illegal. It never should have happened in the first place."

Lomax said the news media misled Fayetteville voters by claiming the ordinance was attempting to strengthen and protect its citizens' civil rights.

"It has nothing to do with civil rights. It is strictly a special entitlement for gay and lesbian groups. It actually discriminates against people of faith," Lomax said.

"It tells them that they have to agree with these people, which we are not going to do," he said. "We can love them; we can minister to them as best we can. But the way they are living their life is against what the Scripture teaches, and we are not going to agree with it."

Caleb Yarbrough is assistant editor of the Arkansas Baptist News.
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