Fayetteville LGBT protections face legal fight now

Fayetteville voters approved a comprehensive anti-discrimination ordinance that includes protections for LGBT citizens by 53 percent on Tuesday.

Little Rock, Ark. (AP) — Opponents of a northwest Arkansas city's ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity said Wednesday they'll keep challenging the legality of the measure that voters ratified.

Fayetteville became the fifth municipality Tuesday to pass a measure testing a new Arkansas law aimed at prohibiting local protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The ordinance, approved with 53 percent of the vote, is set to take effect in November.

The revised version was approved months after voters repealed an earlier anti-discrimination ordinance. Supporters reworked the measure to address voters' concerns. It now includes wider exemptions for churches, religious organizations and schools. It also creates a seven-member commission to investigate any complaints under the ordinance.

"The passage of this ordinance will have real-life, day-to-day impact on our city, and it symbolizes the values of inclusivity and tolerance that we in Fayetteville pride ourselves on having," said Danielle Weatherby, a spokeswoman for For Fayetteville, the group backing the measure.

Fayetteville's ordinance is similar to an anti-discrimination measure approved by voters in the neighboring tourist town of Eureka Springs. Little Rock, Hot Springs and Pulaski County also have approved more scaled-back ordinances that only apply to their agencies and contractors.

The proposals were pushed in response to a state law approved in February barring cities and counties from prohibiting discrimination on a basis not contained in state law. Arkansas' civil rights law doesn't include sexual orientation or gender identity, but supporters have pointed to those protections being mentioned elsewhere in state law.

The group that campaigned against Fayetteville's ordinance said it'll continue its lawsuit challenging its legality. A Washington County judge had rejected Protect Fayetteville's motion to block this week's vote on the ordinance, but didn't rule on its argument that the measure violates the new state law.

"It was an illegally crafted law and it must be stopped," said Duncan Campbell, who heads the Protect Fayetteville campaign. "We will defeat them in court."

Weatherby said she was confident the measure would withstand the challenge.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, said in a non-binding advisory opinion that the five local ordinances were unenforceable because of the new state law. But officials from three of them said they had no plans to back down from the measures and said they were confident they'd be upheld in court.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson allowed the restriction on the local ordinances to become law without his signature, citing concerns about it infringing on local government control. Hutchinson said he believed the Fayetteville ordinance violates that law, but expected the fight to eventually reach the state's highest court.

"The Supreme Court will have to decide the issue, but it seems to me that the state law has to be recognized and obviously the Fayetteville ordinance is in conflict with that," Hutchinson told reporters.

By Andrew DeMillo, Associated Press. Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The Gayly – September 9, 2015 @ 4pm.