Effort to repeal Arkansas law limiting local LGBT protections advances

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An effort to repeal a new Arkansas law preventing local governments from extending anti-discrimination protections to gays and lesbians moved closer toward appearing on next year’s ballot Thursday after the state’s attorney general gave initial approval to the referendum.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge certified the proposed ballot measure, which would have voters decide whether to keep the law prohibiting cities and counties from banning discrimination not covered in state law. Arkansas’s civil rights law doesn’t include sexual orientation or gender identity.

Rutledge’s certification means supporters of the measure can begin gathering the roughly 51,000 signatures from registered voters needed to put the proposal on the 2016 ballot. The signatures must be submitted by late July, when the law is set to take effect.

David Couch, the Little Rock attorney who submitted the proposal, said he hoped to begin gathering signatures as soon as this weekend.

“I think there’s an overwhelming amount of support not only from the groups of people who might be affected by the law, but the support from the business community has been surprising,” Couch said. “I think the people who do business in this state realize this law could be a black eye for this state.”

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Arkansas was the second state after Tennessee to enact such a restriction on local governments, and it came in response to a Fayetteville anti-discrimination ordinance that was later repealed by that city’s voters.

Residents of the northwest Arkansas city of Eureka Springs are voting next month on whether to keep a similar ordinance prohibiting the city and businesses form discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

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