John M. Becker

Arkansas Poised to Pass Law Protecting Anti-LGBT Discrimination

Filed By John M. Becker | February 12, 2015 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: anti-discrimination law, Arkansas, Christianists, education, HRC, religious exemption, religious freedom, religious privilege, special rights

arkansas.jpgLawmakers in Arkansas are expected to give final approval this week to a maliciously bigoted measure that would make it illegal for cities and counties to pass LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination ordinances.

BuzzFeed's Dominic Holden reports:

"I think there is no doubt it is going to pass," Republican state Sen. Bart Hester, the sponsor of SB 202, told BuzzFeed News.

The bill easily cleared the state Senate Monday and sailed through a House committee on a 12-6 vote Wednesday. Hester expects the full House to approve the bill with a two-thirds majority when it comes up for a vote on Friday. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he will not veto the bill, Hester added.

Governor Hutchinson is a Republican, and both chambers of the Arkansas General Assembly are dominated by the GOP as well.

The state ACLU chapter is resigned to the bill's passage, even as legal director Holly Dickson slams it for being "designed to permit as much discrimination as possible in the state."

Hester's bill is a direct response to the historic LGBT-inclusive civil rights ordinance adopted by the city council of Fayetteville, Arkansas last August but repealed by voters in a December referendum. Proponents of the Fayetteville non-discrimination ordinance floated the idea of reintroducing a revised version, which prompted Hester to introduce this bill blocking them -- and any other city or county in the state -- from doing so.

The Ozark Mountain community of Eureka Springs, long known for its friendliness toward gays and lesbians, hurriedly passed an LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination bill on Tuesday to get in under the state legislature's expected ban.

Believe it or not, there's even more anti-LGBT ugliness in the pipeline in Arkansas. Details, after the break.

BuzzFeed writes that anti-LGBT forces in Arkansas will also attempt to pass a so-called "license to discriminate" bill this session:

A so-called religious freedom bill advanced in the Arkansas Legislature Tuesday when the House Judiciary Committee gave a nod to HB 1228, clearing the way for a vote by the full House. The bill would prevent any state action, including a law, from burdening a person's religious belief, even if that belief is indirectly connected to the person's faith.

[The ACLU's] Dickson said the measure would let businesses turn away customers -- a trend becoming more commonplace when LGBT customers attempt to buy floral arrangements or cakes for same-sex weddings.

quit_squirming.jpgArkansas isn't the only state where bigots are trying to create special protections for anti-LGBT discrimination under the guise of "religious freedom" -- according to the Human Rights Campaign, lawmakers in at least fourteen states have introduced more than two dozen "new, sweeping and seemingly-coordinated" attacks on LGBT civil rights.

The group writes, via press release:

The bills -- many modeled on a failed attempt in Arizona last year that drew condemnation from businesses, faith communities, and elected officials in both parties -- put all state non-discrimination laws at risk of being undermined or mooted. They threaten not just the LGBT community, but women, members of minority faiths and other minority classes.

"These bills do not address a legitimate problem with current law. Rather, they are written with the intention of creating harmful consequences," said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. "They put minority groups at risk of being denied service everywhere from the convenience store to the doctor's office -- and they send a harmful message that fairness, equality and the principles of our constitution are secondary to personal discomfort and prejudice."

HRC recently released a report documenting these insidious efforts, titled "Chipping Away at Equality" (click here for PDF). The press release continues:

As the report notes, the harm these bills may cause doesn't end with the LGBT community. Under many proposed bills, an evangelical police officer could feel empowered to refuse to patrol a Jewish street festival; a city clerk could shirk the law and refuse a marriage license to an interracial couple, a divorcee seeking to remarry, or a lesbian couple; an EMT could claim the law is on his side after refusing service to a dying transgender person in the street; and the enforcement of other key sections of civil rights law could be dramatically undermined.

And finally, the LGBT community is facing legislative attacks on the national level as well: yesterday, in a strict party-line vote, Republicans on the U.S. House Education & Workforce Committee blocked a vote on the inclusion of non-discrimination protections for LGBT students in an education reform bill, according to a report from the Washington Blade's Chris Johnson.

"Quit Squirming" cartoon by artist Mike Ritter of the GA Voice.

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