Local governments in Arkansas are now forbidden from passing ordinances that protect LGBT people from discrimination, after the state's Republican governor let an anti-LGBT bill become law without his signature Tuesday.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson did not sign the bill into law, instead taking no action on the pending bill for five days, triggering its automatic passage, reports the Associated Press. The law will take effect 90 days after the state legislature adjourns in May.
The new law will prevent cities and counties from enacting or enforcing laws that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, making Arkansas the second state with such a law; Tennessee passed a similar law a few years ago. The law is also reminiscent of Colorado's Amendment 2, which was approved by voters in 1992, but never enforced because the 1996 Supreme Court ruling in Romer v. Evans struck down the law as discriminatory.
The bill's sponsor, Arkansas Sen. Bart Hester, told BuzzFeed News earlier this month that he wanted the state to have uniformity in civil rights laws, referring to LGBT rights as "special rights."
"I want everyone in the LGBT community to have the same rights I do," he said. "I do not want them to have special rights that I do not have."
Once it takes effect, the law will invalidate existing LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances, like the one passed earlier this month in Eureka Springs, a gay-friendly tourist town in the Ozarks. LGBT advocates were initially encouraged by the passage of a similar ordinance in Fayetteville last year, but after a campaign from right-wing activists and a transphobic robo-call from Michelle Duggar, the matriarch of TLC's reality show 19 Kids and Counting, voters repealed the ordinance in a special election last December.
Little Rock, the state’s capital and largest city, is considering such an ordinance, with a window to pass such a bill because the state ban won’t go into effect for 90 days after the end of the legislative session, the Arkansas Times reports. It could help set up a court challenge to the state law, the paper notes.
Similar bills, which aim to gut local nondiscrimination ordinances that provide protection to LGBT residents from discrimination in housing, public accommodation, employment, and education, have been proposed in several other states, but so far only Mississippi has seen one become law. Both chambers of the Arizona legislature passed a "license to discriminate" bill last year, but under great pressure, Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed it.