Arkansas Town Defies State Ban, Protects LGBT Citizens
An Arkansas town just passed an ordinance that bans discrimination against city employees on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity. But the policy could become moot in the wake of a statewide antigay bill that became law Tuesday.
The City Council in Conway, Ark., met Tuesday night to review the emergency measure and voted 6-2 in favor of adding workplace protections for LGBT city employees, according to local outlet Log Cabin Democrat.
Conway's ordinance updates the city's equal employment opportunity statement to include "sexual orientation" and "gender identity or expression" as characteristics that may not be used to discriminate in hiring. The city, which is home to the University of Central Arkansas, has a population of more than 63,000 people, according to U.S. Census estimates from 2013.
Mayor Tab Townsell said he was "proud "of the outcome of yesterday’s vote, telling the Democrat he found it a necessity to give explicit protections to people of the LGBT community in Conway. The emergency ordinance will take effect immediately, allowing it to be enacted before a statewide ban on pro-LGBT protections takes effect this summer.
Conway's pro-LGBT ordinance was approved the same day that Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson let the statewide ban become law without his signature. The measure rescinds any local ordinances that offer greater protection to the LGBT residents than is guaranteed statewide. Because Arkansas does not recognize sexual orientation or gender identity as protected characteristics, opponents of the statewide law have argued that it effectively legalizes discrimination against LGBT Arkansans.
This makes Arkansas the second state with such a law on the books, after Tennessee, which enacted a similar measure a few years ago. In 1992, Colorado voters approved a law of this type, but it never took effect due to court challenges, and it was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1996. The Arkansas law takes effect 90 days after the legislative session ends in May.
The only other another Arkansas town with an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance happened to approve that legislation the same day the state Senate passed the statewide antigay law. The City Council in Eureka Springs, a small tourist town known as the "gay capital of the Ozarks," enacted its antidiscrimination ordinance this month, worried that a statewide law would roll back such protections.