The Eureka Springs City Council last night suspended the rules and hurriedly passed a civil rights ordinance that extends anti-discrimination protection to gay people in employment, housing and public accommodations.
Famously tolerant Eureka has a history of official actions supportive of gay people, including the domestic partnership registry, a symbolic hand of friendship to the many gay people who make Eureka s popular tourist destination.
Before long, you can watch the action on Eureka’s YouTube channel, where all council meetings are recorded.
Eureka passed the ordinance hours after the state Senate approved Sen. Bart Hester’s bill to ban local governments from passing such ordinances. The law was a response to a similar ordinance passed in Fayetteville and later repealed by voters.
I wrote yesterday that state enforcement of such a law (which could be passed in the House this week) presents a legal question in light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that it was unconstitutional for Colorado to ban laws to protect gay people. Hester’s bill likely was written with that in mind, by not mentioning homosexuality specifically. It says that cities and counties may not add civil rights protections not included in state law. It is legal under state law to discriminate against gay people. But the object of discrimination —- LGBT people — is clear in the sponsor’s long history of anti-gay sentiment, including a threat to withhold money from the University of Arkansas because its chancellor criticized the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce’s opposition to the civil rights ordinance.
Sen. Keith Ingram also mentioned in debate yesterday another legal problem I’d noted with this law: It bars special preferences of any sort.
Little Rock, he noted, gives some special preferences in bidding to local companies. Many cities offer special prices to city attractions for families and the elderly. All present potential legal problems under the law.
The possibility of losing a lawsuit — particularly in the name of religion — has never deterred the Arkansas legislature before.
UPDATE: Blue Hog Report, written by lawyer Matt Campbell, expands on the legal problems with this bill.