Under the threat of a proposed state law that would ban such ordinances, the Eureka Springs, Ark., City Council Monday passed an LGBT-inclusive antidiscrimination ordinance.
It passed unanimously on three readings Monday, and Mayor Robert D. “Butch” Berry intends to sign it into law Wednesday, making Eureka Springs the only municipality in Arkansas with such an ordinance, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports. Eureka Springs, a popular tourist destination in the Ozark Mountains, has been dubbed the “gay capital of the Ozarks.”
“We passed the first domestic-partnership law in the state, married the first same-sex couples in the state. Yet as a community, we don’t have laws to protect those people,” council member James DeVito said at Monday’s meeting, according to the Democrat-Gazette. “So I think it is imperative that we pass this in three readings.”
The ordinance bans discrimination based on “real or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, age (if 18 years or older), gender, gender identity, gender expression, familial status, marital status, socioeconomic background, religion, sexual orientation, disability or veteran status.” It covers employment, housing, business, and public accommodations.
The same day, the Arkansas Senate passed a bill that would prohibit municipalities in the state from enacting or enforcing ordinances that forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It now goes to the state’s House of Representatives.
State legislators noted that if this bill becomes law, it would override the Eureka Springs ordinance, but City Council members said they wanted to have the ordinance in place just the same. “I still feel more comfortable in reading it and passing it and letting the cards fall where they may,” David Mitchell told his fellow council members, the Democrat-Gazette reports.
City Attorney Tim Weaver told the council that the ordinance may lead to a lawsuit, probably not from the state, but from a right-wing group. Council member Mickey Schneider responded, “That’s even better! Bring it on!”
The only other city in Arkansas ever to adopt an LGBT-inclusive antidiscrimination ordinance was the university town of Fayetteville, which did so last August, but voters repealed the law in a special election in December.
The pending state legislation is reminiscent of Colorado’s Amendment 2, which was approved by that state’s voters in 1992. It prohibited municipalities or any branch of state government from enacting or enforcing laws that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. A court challenge kept it from ever going into effect, and the Supreme Court ruled in 1996 that it violated the U.S. Constitution.
Arkansas state lawmakers also considering a so-called religious freedom bill that would allow business owners to refuse to provide services if doing so would conflict with their religious beliefs — as in the example of providing a cake for a same-sex wedding. The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill today on a voice vote, sending it to the full House, the Arkansas Times reports. Several other states have considered similar measures, but only Mississippi has passed one into law.
Same-sex couples were able to marry in Arkansas for a brief period last spring, thanks to a state-level court ruling. Marriages were halted while the state appeals the decision. A pro–marriage equality ruling from a federal court is on hold and on appeal as well.