Arkansas bans non-discrimination laws

Buzzfeed reported that Arkansas’ House of Representatives passed SB202, a bill that blocks localities in the state from passing anti-discrimination legislation of their own.

The bill does not limit itself to blocking protections for the gay community, and instead preempts any effort by a city or county in the state to pass non-discrimination protections not already granted by state law.

With the bill’s passage, Arkansas joins Tennessee in becoming the only two states with laws that actively ban non-discrimination on a local level.

Protesters outside the Supreme Court, and across from the US Congress, for the oral arguments on the gay rights cases involving DOMA and Proposition 8 in March, 2013. © John Aravosis 2013

Protesters outside the Supreme Court, and across from the US Congress, for the oral arguments on the gay rights cases involving DOMA and Proposition 8 in March, 2013. © John Aravosis 2013

One of the reasons the bill is, as Arkansas ACLU legal director Holly Dickson put it, “designed to permit as much discrimination as possible in the state,” because it’s illegal to pass a bill specifically prohibiting LGBT protections. That’s been true since the Romer v. Evans ruling in 1996, in which the United States Supreme Court held that a Colorado amendment preventing LGBT citizens from having protected status in state anti-discrimination bills violated the Equal Protection Clause.

In other words, if you want to pass an anti-anti-discrimination bill, you have to allow for equal discrimination under the law, and that’s exactly what SB202 does.

Governor Asa Hutchinson has said that he will neither sign nor veto the bill, thereby allowing it to go into effect automatically. Hutchinson’s explained his “pocket signature” of the bill as follows:

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.

The allusion to “burdensome regulations” references the pretense for the bill’s passage, as the bill’s sponsors expressed concern that the presence of anti-discrimination protections in a given city or county would discourage businesses that would otherwise wish to set up shop in Arkansas. Nevermind that, as Arkansas Democrat Charlie Tucker pointed out, an overwhelming majority of Fortune 500 companies have anti-discrimination policies of their own.

After all, businesses in competition for labor know that fewer and fewer workers want to live in communities where it’s illegal for themselves and their coworkers to be protected from being fired due to their race, religion or sexual orientation.

So, if anything, Arkansas’ new bill discourages large companies from coming to the state.

Furthermore, it does so by preventing local communities’ from protecting their citizens from discrimination. This makes SB202 the epitome of paternalistic, big-government encroachments that the patriotic, freedom-flinging Republicans of Arkansas are supposed to rise up against.

But of course, the motivation for the bill has nothing to do with economics or limited government and everything to do with assuaging red state voters’ concerns that they might not get to bully people they don’t like.

But not everyone in Arkansas is going along with their state’s new pro-discrimination policy. Earlier last week, the Arkansas town of Eureka Springs stood up to the state senate’s passage of SB202 by rushing through an anti-discrimination bill specifically protecting LGBT individuals. When warned that right-wing groups would likely sue the town for violating the newly-passed SB202, Eureka Springs city councilor Mickey Schneider responded: “Bring it on!


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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9 Responses to “Arkansas bans non-discrimination laws”

  1. Badgerite says:

    Wow. What this makes crystal clear, even, one would think to Anton Scalia, is that the bans against gay marriage in these states are most certainly based on animus against the gay community and not on some kind of concern for the ‘institution of marriage’. Animus. Plain and simple. At least they have dropped the pretense that it is really about anything else.

  2. Plisko says:

    So. . . free for all discrimination against Christian’s now? No more war on Christmas?

  3. kurtsteinbach says:

    Arkansas and Tennessee, among other red, Southern states, also happen to be at-will employment or Right to Work (for less) States, anyway. The people here wallow in poverty and either don’t vote or vote for Republicans, then they wonder why government doesn’t work for them. Me, I’d never vote for people who believe government can’t do anything right or good, and then go out of their way to prove it like the GOP has. Remember when elected officials used to actually work to get things done, like getting the roads paved and the bridges repaired. That was back when the GOP actually believed that government could get things done, and then fix the mistakes as they arose. . . .

  4. kurtsteinbach says:

    I live in Memphis, TN. We have an anti-discrimination law, which applies to city government and contractors with the city. We passed the law several years ago. Then there was a push to make the law statewide. The conservative response was to ban anti-discrimination laws. We still have our law, but the rest of the state cannot get the same protections. We also have a jacka$$ governor and two jacka$$ Senators who support discriminating against whomever the majority doesn’t like. . . .

  5. Indigo says:

    I welcome the kinds of legislation that help me decide where I don’t want to be. Arkansas and Tennessee weren’t ever on my bucket list anyhow. Now, they’re in my No How Never Bucket along with Uganda and Utah. That’s fine with me.

  6. FLL says:

    The battle for civil rights has, for all intents and purposes, moved from the arena of marriage equality to nondiscrimination law. Yesterday, the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission indicated that the Southern Baptist denomination was finally raising the white flag regarding marriage equality. In a statement on Monday, he advised local government officials who didn’t wish to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples to resign rather than attempt to break the law (link here). Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court is doing nothing more than making early campaign speeches for Alabama’s next gubernatorial race. Remember that Moore has already run (and lost) in the Republican primaries for the Alabama governor’s race twice already, 2006 and 2009.

    With the surrender of the Southern Baptists, the denomination that has offered the most vocal opposition to marriage equality, that victory is all but won. No surprise then that the efforts of bigots have shifted to blocking nondiscrimination law. The solution is a federal nondiscrimination law that covers the entire country. Here is the congressional track record for the major pieces of civil rights legislation that affect LGBT Americans:

    2009 (House of Representatives under Democratic control): Hate Crimes Act passed.
    The bill passed the House in April, 2009, by a vote of 249–175, with support from 231 Democrats and 18 Republicans.

    2010 (House of Representatives under Democratic control): DADT repeal passed.
    The bill passed the House in May, 2010, by a vote of 234–194 (10 not voting), with support from 229 Democrats and 5 Republicans.

    2011 to the present (House of Representatives under Republican control): Absolutely nothing.

    It’s difficult to lie your way out of a documented track record, and you’ll probably make a fool out of yourself if you try. Right-wing leaders don’t even try to lie when they give advice to halt the course of civil rights: “Conservatives, please vote in congressional elections to ensure a Republican majority in the House. Liberals/progressives, please do nothing to endanger Republican control of the House, preferably by not voting at all.”

  7. Jimmy says:

    Eureka Springs, AR is home to one of the most watched and well known Passion Plays in this country not to mention a 65 foot statue of Jesus just passed legislation protecting LGBT individuals. Oh, the irony.

  8. UncleBucky says:

    Heckfire, the rest of the Nation (what’s left of it, I guess) should ban Arkansas /aR CAN SASS/…

    Meh.

    Good on Eureka Springs, however.

  9. Macbill says:

    Any company looking for new locations will stay away from Arkansas if they care one whit about the safety and comfort of their LGBT employees.

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