by Chris Johnson, Washington Blade
The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a pro-LGBT ordinance enacted in the state’s third largest city as an act of defiance over a state law barring municipalities from passing such measures.
In the 10-page unanimous decision, Associate Justice Josephine Linker Hart determined the pro-LGBT ordinance enacted by Fayetteville “creates a nonuniform nondiscrimination law and obligation in the City of Fayetteville that does not exist under state law.”
“This necessarily creates a nonuniform non-discrimination law and obligation in the City of Fayetteville that does not exist under state law,” the decision says. “It is clear from the statutory language and the Ordinance’s language that there is a direct inconsistency between state and municipal law and that the Ordinance is an obstacle to the objectives and purposes set forth in the General Assembly’s Act and therefore it cannot stand.”
The decision reverses the decision of a lower district court, which that upheld the ordinance despite state law, and remands the case for further action.
Approved at the ballot by Fayetteville voters in 2015, the ordinance sought to defy Act 137, which prohibits municipalities from enacting non-discrimination measures beyond the scope of state law. Because Arkansas has no protections for LGBT people, the law essentially prohibits cities from enacting ordinances against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Act 137 became law in 2015 after the Arkansas legislature approved and Gov. Asa Hutchison took no action on the legislation.
Kendra Johnson, the Human Rights Campaign’s Arkansas state director, blasted the Arkansas Supreme Court ruling in a statement as “an attack on LGBTQ Arkansans and takes away hard-won protections approved by voters in Fayetteville.”
“Fayetteville’s leaders and citizens chose to protect their friends and neighbors when their representatives in Little Rock would not,” Johnson said. “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.”
Mat Staver, chair of the anti-LGBT Liberty Counsel, praised the decision in a statement as “on point” with laws in other states that have rules from city ordinances, referencing his organization’s ongoing against a pro-trans student measure in Fairfax, Va.
“It makes no sense to have competing and conflicting laws within a state,” Staver said. “This is the same issue that I will argue next week before the Virginia Supreme Court. Moreover, adding gender identity to a non-discrimination law makes a mockery of the law. The law should not give legal sanction to a confused mind or to those intent on causing harm or invading the privacy of other citizens.”