Gretchen Hall, director of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she was notified this week by a potential convention client in 2016 that it would cancel the plans if the legislature approved HB 1228, the bill aimed at allowing religion to be used as a pretext for discrimination against gay people.
Yesterday, the legislature recalled HB 1228 after passing a compromise “religious freedom” measure that removes the religious excuse from private transactions, but still allows a religious objection to government actions.
Hall, who declined to reveal the client, said that, with the compromise, “I’m hopeful we would not receive some of the backlash they’ve received in Indiana.”
Hall said the Convention Bureau was in final negotiations for a contract with the convention customer, which was to use the Marriott Hotel and Statehouse Convention Center. She said she’d received no formal notification that its concerns were allayed by yesterday’s legislative action, but she said the only previous communication was that they would not sign the contract “if HB 1228 was signed.” It was not signed and Hall said she was confident the obstacle had been removed.
Indiana, whose experience with a similar religious objection law sparked an intense response that spread to Arkansas, has also passed a legislative “fix.” It went farther than the Arkansas legislation because it specifies that the bill was not intended to justiify discrimination in public services and that sexual orientation and gender identity are among the characteristics entitled to protection from discrimination. Arkansas’s “fix” did neither thing. Gov. Asa Hutchinson also has no plans to issue an executive order applying to state employees, as he’d once mentioned as a possibility to demonstrate Arkansas’s good faith.
Despite that fix in Indiana, reports continue of business backlash against the state. Advocates of equality there say the state won’t be back in full favor without a civil rights law protecting LGBTQ people. Arkansas law provides no such protection. A bill to add those categories to existing Arkansas civl rights law died in committee this year because of deep oppositon.