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Special election set for Fayetteville’s LGBT anti-discrimination law

Special election set for Fayetteville’s LGBT anti-discrimination law
Fayetteville, Ark.
Fayetteville, Ark.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — A special election will be held later this year over a proposed Fayetteville city law intended to shield LGBT residents from discrimination.

But even if voters ratify the ordinance on Sept. 8, it’s unclear whether it will be allowed under a state law the Legislature approved in February without the governor’s signature.

The new state law, set to go into effect in late July, restricts local governments from expanding anti-discrimination protections not contained in the Arkansas Civil Rights Act, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

The civil rights law prohibits discrimination based on someone’s race, religion, gender, national origin and disability, but doesn’t mention sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Fayetteville City Council on Tuesday voted to send the ordinance up for a public vote in a special election.

“I expect that we will be sued once the state law goes into effect,” City Attorney Kit Williams said. He added that he would be prepared to defend the legality of the city statute.

The City Council had passed a previous anti-discrimination law in August but residents repealed it on Dec. 9.

Residents had collected more than the 4,095 signatures needed to put that measure up for a public vote. Of the 14,580 residents who voted in the referendum, roughly 52 percent voted to repeal the ordinance.

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Alderwoman Sarah Marsh said that by scheduling a special election rather than waiting for the latest ordinance to be challenged through a petition drive, City Council members would be able to set the ballot language themselves.

“If I had my druthers, we wouldn’t send it to a special election,” Alderman Matthew Petty said. “Civil rights shouldn’t be voted on.”

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