What happened in Fayetteville Tuesday was not necessarily a loss for those seeking more definitive equal protections, and may prove but a short lived win for those who believed such protections were either unnecessary or sanctioned immoral behavior.
At issue, of course, was ordinance 5703 approved by the Fayetteville City Council that sought to define and inhibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and/or transgender (LGBT) persons.
Ordinance opposition came primarily from churches but also included a surprisingly active push back by the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce. Their belief was that the ordinance offered special rights to LGBT persons in a manner that imposed upon the liberties and property rights of others. Chamber officials said the ordinance could force businesses to locate outside city limits. Prominent local pastors said the ordinance was in conflict with religious freedoms.
Pushing back against repeal of the ordinance was the national Human Rights Campaign, Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan and University of Arkansas Chancellor G. David Gearhart. (And as an aside, it will be interesting to watch the chamber work to repair relations with the university – the city’s largest employer and one of the region’s biggest drivers of economic development.)
Indeed, the ordinance may have been too broad and parts may have been too vague. And maybe a civil rights administrator on the city staff was not needed. However, the flaws are not an indictment of the intent. And the flaws are not near as disappointing as the scare tactics used by those to drum up opposition to the ordinance. The transgendered are not lining up at bathrooms to molest children. Churches would not be required to open their doors for gay weddings. In fact, the ordinance included a claim of religious exemption.
Appealing to our base fears comes from an old playbook. Giving women the right to vote violated the sanctity established by God of the role of men and women. Integrating schools was a communist plot managed directly from the Kremlin. There is the recent movie about English genius Alan Turing to remind us what civilized societies are capable of doing to people who are different.
As it was with voting rights for women, blacks and other historic efforts in American history to obtain and maintain civil protections for a wider group of citizens, ordinances like the one repealed in Fayetteville will become more, not less, prevalent. This is a statement of trend and not opinion.
For example, polling conducted by the Pew Research Center since 1996 shows a clear shift in opinion about same-sex marriage. In 1996, 65% of Americans opposed such unions, with only 27% in support. By the year 2004, opposition fell to 60% and support rose to 31%. In 2010, 48% of Americans surveyed by Pew opposed same-sex marriage, and 42% were in support.
The tide shifted in 2011 when 46% of Americans surveyed by Pew supported same-sex marriage and 45% opposed. In the 2014 survey, 54% of Americans surveyed said same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, and only 39% of Americans opposed same-sex unions. Among Millenials and Gen Xers, who will in the next few years become a larger portion of the voting share, support for same-sex marriage is even stronger than the combined survey results.
Which brings us back to the truly wonderful and unique town that is Fayetteville. We believe the whole exercise moved the issue forward. And maybe that's the positive. MLK Jr. suffered many losses before LBJ handed him a signatory pen in the Oval Office. And even then, the work was not finished.
We also believe politics is a function of pressure and time. It's likely the pressure will continue for such issues, which means it's only a matter of time before we collectively seek to broaden freedoms rather than cater to our internal fears of change that are often fueled by the pathetic whispers of religious zealots.