Arkansas capital okays anti-discrimination rule forbidden by state

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 21, 2015 11:00 PM

By Steve Barnes

LITTLE ROCK (Reuters) - The governing board of Arkansas’s capital city on Tuesday adopted an ordinance forbidding discrimination against gays and transgender people in municipal hiring, setting the stage for a legal confrontation with the state government which has banned such regulations.

The ordinance also requires vendors doing business with the city of Little Rock to adhere to the same employment practices.

The Arkansas legislature this year forbade cities and counties from establishing anti-discrimination codes that do not conform to state law, which includes no specific mention of sexual minorities.

The legislation was widely viewed as a response to the growing acceptance of gay marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide this summer whether state bans on same-sex marriage are constitutional.

With almost no discussion, the Little Rock Board of Directors passed the ordinance by a vote of seven to two.

City Attorney Tom Carpenter said the ordinance was legally defensible and in accord with other state statutes establishing protected classes as well as federal procurement and hiring standards.

There was no immediate comment from social conservatives who had been critical of the proposal and have hinted that a court challenge was possible.

The gay marriage issue for months has roiled politics in Arkansas, where pressure from major business interests including Walmart stopped the legislature from enacting a religious freedom bill that opponents said would have given the color of law to discrimination against gays.

A similar bill at the same time brought a fire storm of criticism to Indiana.

Also, two members of the Arkansas Supreme Court, including the chief justice, have publicly accused their colleagues of improperly avoiding an appeal of a lower court’s finding that the Arkansas ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

Fayetteville, home to the University of Arkansas, saw its anti-discrimination ordinance repealed in a referendum led by religious conservatives.

In nearby Eureka Springs, which has a substantial gay population and a reputation for tolerance, a similar ordinance will be tested in a public vote in May.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst)