City Director Joan Adcock, a foe of equal rights for gay people (just as she was never happy about equal rights for black people, as demonstrated by her animus toward Little Rock Central anniversary celebrations), has asked Little Rock City Attorney Tom Carpenter for a legal opinion.
Is a proposed city civil rights ordinance, which covers sexual orientation and gender identity, in conflict with a state law that is to take effect in July?
I can provide an answer to her question today:
If it is not in conflict with state law, there’s no point in adopting the ordinance. But the answer is yes.
Carpenter has already given the answer, too, in a careful response at Tuesday’s City Board agenda meeting to questions from Adcock and the Republican city directors Erma Hendrix and B.J. Wyrick aimed at the same point. He said he hadn’t considered state law in drafting the ordinance. He was merely confident that federal law supported the constitutionality of what the city was setting out to do.
In other words, anybody who might suggest the state could pass a law preventing a city or county from barring discrimination against a particular class of people would lose to the U.S. constitution.
The state law is unconstitutional. A court decision will eventually render it so. That’s why it was vital that the emergency clause for the law was defeated. That’s why it’s vital that Eureka Springs has passed a local civil rights ordinance, headed to the ballot in May. That’s why it’s important that Little Rock — and, we could hope, other cities — pass measures of their own devise.
Little Rock’s effort is modest. It puts in law existing city employment policy. But it would add sexual elements to an existing non-discrimination policy for people who want to do business with the city. This edges the law into the area where the state might try to argue that the state law, when it takes effect, kills the city law. That’s where I’m confident a court will prove them wrong. We need that issue to be decided, no matter how much city officials want to dance around it.
And let’s call Joan Adcock’s legal spade a spade. If she doesn’t want to require businesses not to discriminate against gay people if they want city business, it also means she should vote to repeal the existing policy as it applies to black people, women, the elderly, the disabled and any other protected classes. Unless she really is just about discriminating against gay people. Because that’s what the state law is about. And that’s why such efforts have been ruled unconstitutional in other states.
Mayor Mark Stodola helps matters little with his so-called leadership. He insists federal law already protects gay people. In employment, it most certainly does not and there’s little to support his position in public accommodations either. He diminishes the entire enterprise to try to pitch this as something merely symbolic, perhaps because he’s had no meaningful role in advancing the cause of civil rights in this area, a woeful dereliction.
A vote is scheduled next week. A head count suggests more than the six votes needed were in hand last week. But the haters of the Family Council and the Republican Party are at work. (Wyrick has a high state job in the Hutchinson administration, working now, along with her daughter, directly supervised by an old Hutchinson ally. Does it matter? I hope not. Wyrick is usually independent, but her questioning isn’t hopeful.)
It is possible that raising an alarm about a possible conflict with a discriminatory state law could make a couple of the soft votes go wobbly and one supporter, Ken Richardson, won’t be in town to vote. So, based on recent comments, you start, at best, 7-3. And that puts Brad Cozart in the yes column, despite some recent negative remarks to me about passing a city ordinance.
In the 1950s, a vote against a discriminatory and unconstitutional state law might have done wonders to prevent the tragedy that befell Little Rock and Arkansas. But cowardice prevailed — at least until the women stepped in. I see some irony in women of the city board leading the charge against equal rights under the law for all people.