With a vote of 9 to 3 with one abstention and two members not present, the Pulaski County Quorum Court tonight advanced a non-discrimination ordinance that would protect LGBTQ county employees from discrimination and require businesses that contract with the county to do the same.
The nos on advancing the ordinance to a full vote were District 11 JP Aaron Robinson, District 12 JP Luke McCoy, and District 13 JP Phil Stowers. All three are Republicans. District 14 JP Paul Elliott, also a Republican, abstained, saying that he wanted to give the ordinance more thought.
District 1 JP Doug Reed and District 10 JP Rev. Robert Green were not present for tonight’s vote.
The ordinance will be voted on at the next Quorum Court at the end of the month. If at least 10 members vote yes on the ordinance at that meeting, then the rules can be suspended and the ordinance could be passed immediately. If not, it will have to go through multiple readings, and could take until July to pass.
District 2 JP Tyler Denton was the author of the ordinance. He started the discussion of the ordinance by calling the measure “a historic opportunity for Pulaski County.” Denton told his fellow JPs that the ordinance before them has nothing to do with gay marriage, nor is it a referendum on which bathrooms people are allowed to use, with Denton pointing out there are already laws on the books about public bathroom usage.
“We are simply saying that as a county, Pulaski County will not discriminate,” Denton said. “This mindset is not only morally correct, but is smart for business. It is smart for attracting jobs, smart for attracting families who want to live in a modern community and smart for our tax base.”
Denton said that he’s been asked “why now?” about the ordinance. “I believe that as a public servant, our job is to protect our citizens as much as possible, which means being proactive on these types of issues, rather than reactive when a crisis arises.” Denton later asked that the class of ‘veteran” be added to the ordinance, an amendment that passed.
At Denton’s request, Little Rock Chamber of Commerce president Jay Chessir and N. Little Rock Chamber president Terry Hartwick came to the podium and spoke in favor of the ordinance, with Chessir saying: When it’s all said and done, this is about treating people the way you want to be treated — treating people with fairness.” Chessir said that the concept of “placemaking” is very important in communities, the idea of building a place where people want to live and which is welcoming to all and where people want to live, grow and work.” Hartwick said that the bottom line is “show me the green, and I’ll sell you anything.” On the topic of gay rights, he’s heard from people who have said they are “tired of it being pushed down their throats.”
“Well, it’s not being pushed down our throats,” Hartwick said. “It’s just the nature of the times.”
Others in attendance to speak in favor of the ordinance were Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane, Stonewall Democrats president Tippi McCullough and Rabbi Eugene Levy, with Crane telling the Quorum Court: “I think that we should put our money where our mouth is and put it in writing, in law, that this is who Pulaski County is,”
JP Luke McCoy asked several questions of Pulaski County attorney Amanda Mitchell about the definitions of terms included in the ordinance, including “gender identity” and “sexual orientation,” saying that undefined terms could be detrimental. On the definition of “sexual orientation,” McCoy said: “There are lots of people out there who have sexual interests that I think we would all find illegal — definitely illegal.”
“Those would be considered disorders by the American Psychiatric Association,” Mitchell said. “If we’re talking about pedophilia and things of that nature, those are disorders. Those are not orientations.” Asked if the ordinance is legal and enforceable, Mitchell told McCoy that the ordinance was patterned on the Little Rock ordinance, and will be both legal and enforceable, even after Act 137 goes into effect in July.
Responding to a question from McCoy, Mitchell said that she didn’t believe that a business could claim they were discriminated against under the ordinance, even under the recently-passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act. She said that the ordinance doesn’t require businesses to change their internal policies and practices, but does require them to abide by the non-discrimination language that will be included in any contract they sign with the county if the ordinance passes.McCoy went on to say that he was afraid that some churches might not allow their buildings to be used as polling places if the ordinance was passed.
District 9 JP Judy Green, who graduated from Little Rock public schools in 1957, used her time to thank Denton for authoring the bill. “That was my senior year of high school,” she said. “So I’ve seen it all and I’ve been through it all. But we’ve got a long ways to go.”