City Director Kathy Webb says she met briefly Friday with Little Rock City Attorney Tom Carpenter about a city ordinance to guard against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
I want to make sure what we file is comprehensive and clear, and protects Little Rock citizens against discrimination. I hope we will have something to present to the Board within a week or so.
The Arkansas House Friday completed legislative action on a bill to prohibit cities from adopting or enforcing such ordinances. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he’ll allow the measure to become law.
Because the House failed to adopt the emergency clause, adoption of such ordinances will remain legal until the law takes effect 90 days after the conclusion of the legislative session, probably sometime in late summer.
Getting the ordinance on the books will be an important step if the state or other actor tried to stop enforcement of a local ordinance, such as Eureka Springs has already passed. Then the question will squarely be about a state effort to guarantee the legal ability to discriminate against gay people. Under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, it is unlikely the state could demonstrate a compelling or rational public purpose for such discrimination. The equal protection clause of the Constitution should triumph, Justices Clarence Scalito notwithstanding.
One model in Little Rock might be a Houston ordinance. It provides civil rights protection, but exemptions for small businesses and religious institutions, a couple of flash points in the debate in Arkansas.
A few points about what I’m tempted to call the Wedding Cake Discrimination Act. The mythical baker who has a religious objection to selling a wedding cake to a same-sex couple has become the haters’ shining exemplar of why this bill must be passed. Why the baker is so holy, I don’t understand. Segs took up ax handles to beat black people who wanted to be served fried chicken at whites-only restaurants in the South in the 1960s. The segs, too, cited religious belief in separation of the races. The federal public accommodation law was passed to prevent this. There’s nothing inherently religious in renting a room, baking a cake or flipping a hamburger. These are simple acts of commerce, unburdened by religious ties. If we may deny service on religious grounds to gay people, may we also deny it to adulterers, gluttons, horse thieves and other sinners? No, because there’s no compelling public interest in protecting this on any religious or other pretext. Indeed, a good Baptist will tell you that a business that denies service to sinners on religious grounds would serve no one, including the proprietor.
Rep. Mary Bentley’s impassioned plea for the cake baker in the House debate yesterday included the claim that the law could put a godly cake baker out of business if he or she denied a cake to a transgender person (she took care to spit out the words underling the LGBT acronym — lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender — as if they were curse words). Hardly. The voter-repealed Fayetteville civil rights ordinance carried a maximum civil penalty of $500 to $1,000 and that would have been assessed only after failed conciliation efforts. I’m guessing the number of transgender wedding cakes necessary after marriage equality reaches Arkansas will be very small. Also, discerning couples will avoid haters wherever possible.
Also, Tippi McCullough, president of the Stonewall Democrats, issued this statement about passage of SB 202, the gay discrimination bill:
The Stonewall Democratic Caucus is saddened by the passing of SB 202 and disappointed that Governor Asa Hutchinson will let it become law. We are proud of everyone who spoke against the discriminatory bill and unsurprised today by it being exposed for the shameful piece of legislation that it is. The LGBT community is under attack in our own state, and we will not accept this or run away. We are deserving of the rights all our brothers and sisters have here in our great state we love and will continue to work until we achieve equality.