Arkansas is on its way to enshrining anti-LGBT discrimination into law.
The state’s House of Representatives Friday approved a bill that would prevent cities and counties from enacting or enforcing laws that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, the Associated Press reports. The Senate has already passed the bill, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he will let it become law without his signature, “a move often used to show discontent but acknowledge there is enough support to override a veto,” the AP notes.
It makes Arkansas the second state with such a law; Tennessee passed one a few years ago. It’s also reminiscent of Colorado’s Amendment 2, approved by voters in 1992 but never enforced because of a lawsuit and struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1996.
Its sponsor, Sen. Bart Hester, told BuzzFeed earlier this week that he wanted the state to have uniformity in civil rights laws, and he called LGBT rights “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.”
The House also OK’d a bill that would let business owners refuse to serve certain customers if doing so would violate their religious beliefs, the AP reports. It now goes to the Senate. It’s the type of legislation often referred to as a “license to discriminate” bill, aimed primarily at sanctioning discrimination against LGBT consumers — for instance, same-sex couples ordering wedding cakes.
“I don’t think ... a baker that loves the word of God, that’s bringing her children up to honor God and to worship God, should have her business destroyed because she doesn’t want to bake a cake for someone who is a transgender trying to marry someone else,” said Rep. Mary Bentley, who supported the bill, according to the AP.
Such bills 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.
Backers of both Arkansas bills said they were motivated by the Fayetteville City Council’s passage of an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance last August, although voters repealed it in a special election in December. Eureka Springs, a gay-friendly tourist town in the Ozarks, passed a similar ordinance this week; it will be nullified by the state ban on these local laws. Little Rock, the state’s capital and largest city, is considering such an ordinance, with a window because the state ban won’t go into effect for 90 days, the Arkansas Times reports. It could help set up a court challenge to the state law, the paper notes.
Civil rights advocates decried the state legislature’s actions as not only unjust but bad for business. “Talented people are not going to want to move to a place with such laws,” said Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Arkansas affiliate, according to the AP.
Tippi McCullough, president of the state’s Stonewall Democrats chapter, said LGBT Arkansans will fight on, the Arkansas Times reports. “The LGBT community is under attack in our own state, and we will not accept this or run away,” she said. “We are deserving of the rights all our brothers and sisters have here in our great state we love and will continue to work until we achieve equality.”