Arkansas Republicans Really Don’t Want Gays to Have Civil Rights

Arkansas doesn’t have a state law protecting LGBTs from discrimination, but apparently for the state’s GOP that’s not quite enough and it now wants to make sure that no local government can ever protect LGBTs either.

The legislation, known as SB 202, actually declares a state of emergency. Why? It’s in response to a number of cities and municipalities like Eureka Springs moving to support their LGBT citizens by passing ordinances that would prevent discrimination in things like housing and employment. Apparently, this threatens to throw the business world into disarray.

The legislation’s prime sponsor, Arkansas Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, says that the legislation isn’t meant to discriminate against anyone but would create uniformity in business law and protect people from frivolous claims. He claims this will attract business to the state. LGBT rights groups and moderates say this is nonsense and the bill is there simply to launch an unconstitutional attack LGBT rights. That hasn’t stopped Republicans from passing the bill though. 

Since being introduced on February 2, the legislation passed the Senate and then the House (58-21) at a blistering pace. In a decidedly spineless move, Governor Asa Hutchinson has announced that rather than sign or veto the bill–which would require Hutchinson to actually take a stance on this–he will simply withhold his signature and in so doing allow the bill to become law:

“Senate Bill 202 passed with significant margins in the General Assembly, and I have a high regard for the discussion in the Legislature and respect for the legislative process. As Governor, I recognize the desire to prevent burdensome regulations on businesses across the state. However, I am concerned about the loss of local control. For that reason, I am allowing the bill to become law without my signature.”

Max Brantley writing for Arkansas blog predicts that by the time this bill becomes law, a few other counties may have passed local ordinances. Of course, the state will then attempt to quash those ordinances and, ultimately, a federal legal battle will then ensue.

The annoying thing about this bill is that some courts may read it as being technically constitutional because of the very careful–and, I might add, somewhat devious–way it has been framed.

Taken out of context, the bill is simple: it requires that municipalities not exceed state law in the protections they provide, and by virtue argues that unless state law specifically creates a protected class in addition to the federal classes (which don’t necessarily include LGBTs) then local governments can’t exceed those protections and add new classes. In terms of keeping good order and respecting the system of lawmaking, this might make some sense. Also, the legislation doesn’t single any one class. Had it have done that, it would have fallen under the remit of the Supreme Court’s Romer v. Evans ruling, which says you can’t use animus to pass laws against disfavored classes of people. If we confine ourselves solely to the text of the legislation, it doesn’t do that. What it does do, actually, is allow discrimination against anyone the state hasn’t specifically protected.

However, in the context of the wider battle against gay rights and particularly civil rights protections, the legislation isn’t only an example of mean-spirited government over-reach, it’s a desperate and toxic ploy to curb gay rights and specifically the right to work, live and go to school without fear of persecution for someone’s personal identity.

The legislation is vague because it’s trying to skirt an easy knock-down by the courts, but it’s vague nature itself betrays the root of the conflict: the only ordinances to have exceeded the Arkansas legislature’s protections are ones that are LGBT inclusive. The courts will look at the legislative background of the General Assembly and at the statements surrounding the bill. They will find the animus there, despite the way in which the Republican controlled legislature have tried to hide.

As such, this new law will fall eventually, but it may have some staying power in the near-term. What this does serve to highlight yet again though is the need for a federal law specifically and expressly protecting LGBTs because without it, opportunist legislators can and do have an appetite for discrimination and inflicting harm.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 years ago

Everyone should have the same civil rights! There is no group who should have more than another. We can't trample on one's rights to give another theirs!

Mark Vaughan
Mark Vaughan4 years ago

Hey, all you lawyers out there; what are the legal grounds for bringing suit against the state of Arkansas for this law?

Angela Roquemore
Angela Roquemore4 years ago


Elizabeth F.
Elizabeth F4 years ago


Nikki Davey
Nikki Davey4 years ago

Sad. Move away to a more tolerant area

Helga Ganguly
Helga Ganguly4 years ago

I bought a car on e-bay from Arkansas. It was a 2003 Saab. Not the pick-up model. Lol. That's how you get a good deal. The car was rear-ended in 2013 and we shopped the country for another one. They really are hiding out there,driven with low miles by little old ladies.

Helga Ganguly
Helga Ganguly4 years ago

"Arkansas-the bugs are big enough to vote. Too bad they can't.They look smarter than the residents.

Helga Ganguly
Helga Ganguly4 years ago

Arkansas-Bad for chicken.Not so good for people either.

Winn Adams
Winn Adams4 years ago

No surprise here!

BMutiny TCorporationsEvil

In support of my Previous Post, which is way down there:

C2 News Item:
Evangelicals Hate Gays more than they hate Catholics
from SGN, Seattle Gay News