LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas on Monday banned local governments from expanding anti-discrimination protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity, becoming the second state to adopt a measure opponents call a thinly-veiled move to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson allowed the legislation barring cities and counties from prohibiting discrimination on a basis not covered by state law to take effect without his signature. Arkansas’ anti-discrimination protections don’t include sexual orientation or gender identity.
Monday marked the end of the five-day window for Hutchinson to take action on the bill or allow it to become law.
Hutchinson had raised concerns about the bill infringing on local control, but said he wouldn’t veto it. His office said his position hadn’t changed and he allowed the proposal to become law, despite a last-ditch campaign by advocacy groups urging him to veto the legislation.
The law won’t take effect until 90 days after the Legislature formally adjourns, which is currently set for May.
Bentonville-based Walmart, which had been the focus of an intense social media campaign by opponents of the measure, criticized the prohibition late Monday afternoon. The world’s largest retailer includes sexual orientation and gender identity in its non-discrimination policy.
“Every day, in our stores, we see firsthand the benefits diversity and inclusion have on our associates, customers and communities we serve. It all starts with the core basic belief of respect for the individual. And that means understanding and respecting differences and being inclusive of all people,” Wal-Mart spokesman Lorenzo Lopez said in a statement. “We feel this legislation is counter to this core basic belief and sends the wrong message about Arkansas.”
Article continues belowOpponents of the ban were weighing a lawsuit to challenge the measure’s constitutionality.
“It’s just another scar on the face of a state that really doesn’t need any more signs of an intolerance toward outsiders, toward people that some people disapprove of,” said Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which was exploring a lawsuit challenging the measure’s constitutionality. “It’s not good for business. It’s not good for Arkansas’ reputation.”
The measure was introduced in reaction to a Fayetteville ordinance that voters repealed in December expanding the city’s anti-discrimination protections. Eureka Springs in northwest Arkansas enacted a similar measure earlier this month, and Little Rock elected officials are weighing expanding that city’s discrimination protections.