LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — After the state faced widespread backlash over measures critics cast as anti-gay, several Arkansas cities worried about the economic fallout are challenging the new laws by expanding their anti-discrimination protections.
The moves range from one city asking voters whether to defy a state law placing limits on local anti-discrimination ordinances to others expanding their own hiring policies to include sexual orientation and gender orientation.
The state’s largest city of Little Rock is considering whether to require all its contractors to include anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people.
The changes come after lawmakers approved a religious objections bill that was revamped in response to criticism from some of the state’s largest employers – including mega-retailer Wal-Mart- that an initial version endorsed discrimination against gays and lesbians. Arkansas earlier this year also became the second state after Tennessee to bar local governments from expanding anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
The law prohibits local ordinances from prohibiting discrimination on a basis not recognized by the state, and Arkansas is among 29 states that don’t include sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination laws. The new state law doesn’t apply to a city and county’s own hiring policies, which Little Rock’s ordinance would cover. The Little Rock proposal goes a step further with the restriction on anyone who contracts with the city.
Supporters say the move is needed to send a message to businesses that may be scared off by the new laws.
“I’m doing everything I can as a mayor to tell them the city of Little Rock and the citizens of Little Rock in no way believe that’s the focus we should have,” said Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola. “The city’s open for business, and is welcoming people of all diversity.”
Article continues belowThe proposal going before Little Rock’s city board Tuesday could prompt a legal challenge with the new requirement for city vendors. Little Rock’s attorney said he believes the provision is legal, noting that other state laws dealing with cyberbullying and domestic violence shelters prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.
But the state senator behind the Arkansas law, which is set to take effect in late July, said he believes it at least goes against the spirit of the measure he introduced.
“I feel like it runs counter to what our intent was,” Republican Sen. Bart Hester said. “Our intent was to have equality where businesses can operate fluidly throughout the state.”