Over the last few years, politicians in Little Rock have gone to extraordinary lengths to try to stop local communities, specifically Fayetteville, from protecting their LGBT residents from discrimination.
You read that right: state officials are actively working to expose Arkansans to anti-LGBT discrimination and overrule local communities trying to protect them.
But Fayetteville is fighting back, and so are we.
It started in 2015, when Fayetteville was considering a local ordinance that would protect LGBT people from being harassed, fired or denied services because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. This is a common sense policy that many state and local governments around the country have adopted, but anti-LGBT extremists in the state capitol were determined to thwart it.
Legislators rushed to pass Act 137 to overrule not only Fayetteville’s proposed nondiscrimination ordinance, but also any local nondiscrimination ordinance that went further than state law. Undeterred, Fayetteville voters passed their nondiscrimination ordinance anyway and have been fighting to defend it ever since.
Anti-LGBT activists, backed by the Arkansas Attorney General, sued the city to stop enforcement of the ordinance and re-legalize anti-LGBT discrimination in Fayetteville. In February, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the ordinance violated Act 137, but did not rule on the constitutionality of the state law itself.
That means we still have a chance to strike down this discriminatory law and protect the LGBT residents of Fayetteville, which is exactly what the American Civil Liberties of Arkansas and our clients are determined to do.
To succeed, we’ll need to prove legislators passed the law with the intent to discriminate.
There is no question that Act 137 was aimed squarely at Fayetteville’s ordinance and others like it, and was passed to purposefully deny LGBT people the rights and protections afforded to other groups. But lawmakers tried to hide the bill’s discriminatory intent behind a facade of neutrality, and now the State of Arkansas is arguing that the law had nothing to do with Fayetteville and is merely an innocent attempt to ensure uniformity across the state.
This is false, but to prove it we need evidence, which is why we’re asking lawmakers to provide testimony and documents about their intentions and motives.
So far, they’ve stonewalled.
The Attorney General is claiming that all branches and state agencies are immune from providing documents and testimony, even though this phase, called discovery, is par-for-the-course in lawsuits, and the State, by decision of the Attorney General, decided to intervene in the case to sue the city.
What are they trying to hide?
On September 26, a Washington County Circuit Judge made clear that the State of Arkansas isn’t going to get away with refusing to hand over documents relevant to the case, and ordered state officials to work with us to obtain the materials we need.
The judge also denied the state’s attempt to block enforcement of Fayetteville’s ordinance while the litigation proceeds, which is good news for the LGBT people in Fayetteville and everyone who benefits from living in a welcoming, inclusive and vibrant community.
While we continue to fight this important LGBT rights case in the courts, we can’t and won’t lose sight of what’s really at stake. Fayetteville’s nondiscrimination ordinance has allowed our clients Anthony Clark, Noah Meeks, and Liz Petray and other LGBT residents and visitors to Fayetteville to go about their daily lives without fear of being fired, harassed or evicted because of who they are. They’re simply seeking the same protections the Constitution guarantees to every American.
Extremist politicians in Little Rock are using the full force and resources of the state to legalize discrimination in Fayetteville, but we and the members of the LGBT community have the Constitution on our side and no intention of giving up.
The ACLU of Arkansas and the City of Fayetteville will continue to fight this unjust state law and defend the basic rights and human dignity of LGBT Arkansans.