Cities keeping anti-discrimination measures despite new law

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge AP Photo, Danny Johnston

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie RutledgeAP Photo, Danny Johnston

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. —– Most Arkansas municipalities that have adopted broader anti-discrimination protections for gays and lesbians say they’ll keep enforcing the measures despite a new law taking effect this week intended to prohibit such ordinances.

Little Rock, Hot Springs and Pulaski County officials say they don’t have any plans to stop enforcing their ordinances banning discrimination by their agencies or vendors based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Officials in Eureka Springs, which voted in May to keep a much broader ordinance that applies to the city and businesses, said they’re still considering the matter.

The measures were approved over the past several months to challenge a law taking effect Wednesday that bans cities and counties from prohibiting discrimination on any basis not covered by state law. Arkansas’ civil rights law doesn’t include protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people.

Local leaders say so far, they’re finding little backlash to the expanded protections.

“I haven’t heard from anyone who has said we won’t bid on city services if we have to check the box,” said David Watkins, city manager of Hot Springs, which approved its ordinance in May. “I don’t really anticipate any pushback because I can’t imagine a business wanting to do business with public money basically saying they will discriminate against the LGBT community.”

Reaction has been equally muted in Eureka Springs, a northwestern Arkansas town that is simultaneously promoted as a gay-friendly tourist attraction and home to a popular outdoor play about Jesus’ last days.

The only complaint accusing a business of violating the ordinance — for refusing to perform a same-sex wedding — was dismissed because the action was constitutionally protected, Mayor Robert “Butch” Berry said.

“I don’t see this as an issue,” Berry said. “Eureka Springs has always been an open-minded and been accepting of people, so we’ve never had any complaints prior to this ordinance.”

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