Arkansas bid to repeal anti‑discrimination limits dropped

Demonstrators attend a rally on the steps of the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Tuesday, March 31, 2015, in protest of a bill that critics say will lead to discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Demonstrators attend a rally on the steps of the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Tuesday, March 31, 2015, in protest of a bill that critics say will lead to discrimination against gays and lesbians. Danny Johnston, AP

Demonstrators attend a rally on the steps of the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Tuesday, March 31, 2015, in protest of a bill that critics say will lead to discrimination against gays and lesbians. Danny Johnston, AP

Demonstrators attend a rally on the steps of the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Tuesday, March 31, 2015, in protest of a bill that critics say will lead to discrimination against gays and lesbians.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A group dropped its campaign on Thursday to repeal an Arkansas law aimed at prohibiting cities and counties from extending anti-discrimination protections to LGBT people.

Arkansans to Protect Local Rights announced it would no longer circulate petitions to let voters decide whether to keep the law, which prevents cities and counties from banning discrimination not covered in state law. Arkansas’s civil rights law doesn’t include sexual orientation or gender identity.

The group said in a statement provided to The Associated Press that it was instead focusing on pushing for expanded anti-discrimination ordinances despite the new law.

“Our ultimate goal, the commitment to advance equality and promote local control, is best achieved through partnering with our communities in support of (non-discrimination ordinances),” the group said.

The group faced a July 22 deadline to submit more than 51,000 signatures from registered voters to put the referendum on the November 2016 ballot. David Couch, the attorney who organized the campaign, said it had collected more than 10,000 signatures.

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Couch said the group agreed with the argument from Little Rock’s city attorney and others that the new Arkansas law doesn’t actually prohibit local protections for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. They’ve pointed to other state laws that include protections for LGBT people.

“I think we could have done it if we kept pushing, but it got to, why are we trying to repeal something that doesn’t really prohibit what we want to do?” Couch said.

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