Arkansas Supreme Court blocks local LGBT nondiscrimination measures

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By Steve Barnes | LITTLE ROCK, Ark.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. The Arkansas Supreme Court
ruled on Thursday that state law barred local governments from
enacting ordinances banning discrimination based on sexual
orientation or gender identity, but justices did not address the
law’s constitutionality.

The unanimous decision voided anti-discrimination
protections passed in 2015 in Fayetteville, a liberal city that
is home to the state’s flagship university, as well as similar
ordinances adopted by other local governments in the politically
conservative state.

State Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, had
appealed a lower court ruling upholding the Fayetteville
ordinance, which prohibited discrimination against gay, lesbian,
bisexual and transgender people in employment, hiring and other
aspects of commerce.

Rutledge cited an Arkansas law forbidding cities and
counties from extending nondiscrimination protections beyond
those classes identified at the state level.

The legislature passed that measure in 2015 after initial
attempts by Fayetteville to enact an anti-discrimination
ordinance failed. Fayetteville and several other cities then
passed ordinances in response to state law.

Although other state statutes against bullying and spousal
abuse include gender identity and sexual orientation, the
Arkansas civil rights code makes no mention of either.

In siding with Rutledge, the Supreme Court held that the
state civil rights law was the controlling statute. The court
said Fayetteville’s city ordinance could not stand because it
created a direct inconsistency between state and municipal law.

Left undecided was whether the underlying state law passed
constitutional muster. The court returned that issue to the
local trial judge for consideration.

Rutledge said she was grateful for the ruling, noting that
Arkansas’ law required “discrimination protection be addressed
at the state level and be uniform throughout the state.”

LGBT advocates, who argue the state law banning local
protections for gay and transgender people is discriminatory,
said they were disappointed.

“We would have preferred to have a final outcome today, but
I’m certain there will be further appellate review after the
trial court rehears the case,” said Holly Dickson, a staff
attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union at Little Rock.

The ACLU filed a brief in support of the Fayetteville
ordinance.



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