LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Fayetteville’s Ordinance 5781, which bans discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, was struck down by the Arkansas Supreme Court Thursday.
A previous judge’s ruling declared that the anti-discrimination ordinance didn’t violate state law. In response, Fayetteville adopted local protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) people.
Thursday, the Arkansas Supreme Court justices reversed that judge’s ruling, saying that the Arkansas Civil Rights law doesn’t protect against discrimination on sexual orientation or gender identity. In other words, according to the Supreme Court, nowhere in Arkansas state law are LGBT people protected.
The ruling says Ordinance 5781 is a municipal decision to expand the coverage of the Arkansas Civil Rights Act to include LGBT people. Adding in a new classification of people covered under the Arkansas Civil Rights Act is a violation of state law, as LGBT people are a classification not previously included under state law.
It’s a sweeping decision that likely rolls back similar anti-discrimination efforts adopted around Arkansas.
In Little Rock, the City Board of Directors has passed an ordinance similar to that of Fayetteville’s – adding sexual orientation and gender identity to a list of other factors employers and businesses cannot discriminate against, like race, religion and disability.
Family Council President Jerry Cox released the following statement on the court’s ruling: “This is a good ruling. Laws about discrimination are best left to the state and federal governments. The City of Fayetteville overstepped when it passed this ordinance. I’m glad the Arkansas Supreme Court understood that and struck the ordinance down.”
Cox criticized the Fayetteville ordinance, saying, “The ordinance granted special protections for people based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but it failed to protect religious Arkansans. Under this ordinance, a minister could have been penalized for declining to solemnize a same-sex marriage, and people of faith who own catering services, florist shops, wedding venues, and so on could have been penalized for declining to participate in or cater to same-sex ceremonies. One of the founding principles of our nation is the free exercise of religion. Fayetteville’s ordinance penalized people for living and operating according to their faith. The Arkansas Supreme Court did the right thing in striking this ordinance.”
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights organization, blasted the Arkansas Supreme Court for striking down the ordinance.
“Let’s be clear, the state’s preemption law is unconstitutional. This ruling from the Arkansas Supreme Court is an attack on LGBTQ Arkansans and takes away hard-won protections approved by voters in Fayetteville,” said Kendra R. Johnson, HRC Arkansas state director, in a news release issued after the ruling was announced. “Fayetteville’s leaders and citizens chose to protect their friends and neighbors when their representatives in Little Rock would not. Removing these protections leaves LGBTQ people without local, municipal or state protections, putting them at heightened risk of discrimination as they simply go about their daily lives. We oppose this harmful ruling.”
In 2014, HRC launched Project One America, an initiative geared towards advancing social, institutional and legal equality in Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi. HRC Arkansas continues to work to advance equality for LGBTQ Arkansans who have no state level protections in housing, workplace, or public accommodations. Through HRC Arkansas, we are working toward a future of fairness every day — changing hearts, minds and laws toward achieving full equality.