- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The city of Little Rock is defying the state of Arkansas, by passing a new law providing anti-discrimination protections to homosexuals and the transgendered.

The city council approved the new ordinance on a 7-2 vote on Tuesday, despite criticism that it ran counter to a state law prohibiting cities and counties from applying anti-discrimination laws to more categories of persons than the state does.

Earlier this year, Arkansas became the second state — after Tennessee — to limit local governments from broadening anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The state also came under fire more recently — a significant part of it coming from in-state businesses such as Wal-Mart — for passing a religious-freedom law that was characterized by opponents and the national media as providing a pass for anti-gay discrimination.

The city ordinance prohibits Little Rock city agencies from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and requires that any vendors doing business with the city have a similar non-discrimination policy.

“I think we’re sending a message that we’re a welcoming community, that we’re diverse, that we realize that’s good for business, that we value all of our citizens,” said Kathy Webb, one of the city’s nine directors and the proposal’s sponsor. “I think that’s very important to make that kind of statement for Little Rock.”

Pro-gay Little Rock officials said their law wasn’t prevented by the state law — known as Act 137 — because it only applied to city government itself and its vendors. It doesn’t actually require businesses to have non-discrimination policies, only declares that if they don’t, they can’t get city contracts.

The Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce supported the city ordinance, which takes effect immediately.

According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, City Attorney Tom Carpenter also told council members that because some state laws — he cited anti-bullying and domestic-violence laws — recognize sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes, the city rule wouldn’t run contrary to the state law.

“The proposed ordinance does not violate Arkansas law, specifically Act 137 of 2015, because every prohibition against discrimination named is already named somewhere in state law,” Mr. Carpenter wrote in an advisory legal opinion to the council. “Further, the proposed ordinance is consistent with interpretation by the Arkansas Supreme Court of the Equal Protection clause of the Arkansas Constitution. Finally, the proposed ordinance is also in conformity with federal law and regulations that bar discrimination.”

A spokesman for state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge had no comment to the Associated Press on whether Little Rock’s law would conflict with the state’s, but the state legislator who led the push for it wasn’t so circumspect.

“I’m certainly not an attorney, but I would think if you’re a vendor you’ve got a good defense against this,” said state Sen. Bart Hester, Cave Springs Republican.

One of the two dissenting city directors said she voted against the law because of its vendor provision; she said she would have backed it had it applied only to the city’s employees.

“But when we start expanding to businesses, and we tell businesses how they’re going to conduct their employees, I think that’s a different story,” B.J. Wyrick said.

• This article was based in part on wire-service reports.

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