Eureka Springs voters on Tuesday (May 12) voted to keep an ordinance approved by the city council in February that sought to prevent employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The unofficial vote was 579 for ratification of the ordinance and 231 against.
The Eureka Springs City Council on Feb. 9 approved Ordinance 2223 on the third reading and without support of the city attorney.
The opening line of the ordinance notes that the city “seeks to protect and safeguard the right and opportunity of all persons to be free from unfair discrimination based on real or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, age, gender, gender identity, gender expression, familial status, marital status, socioeconomic background, religion, sexual orientation, disability and veteran status.”
Supporters of the ordinance and officials with the Human Rights Campaign pushed for the its passage in response to Senate Bill 202 then under consideration in the Arkansas General Assembly.
SB 202, which was hotly debated in the state Legislature, went into effect without the signature of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who had said he would not veto the measure despite reservations. Also, SB 202 was designed to prevent the type of ordinance Eureka Springs voters ratified on Tuesday. The Eureka Springs vote could be a legal test of SB 202.
The Human Rights Campaign issued this statement following the election: "Arkansas cities are leading the way and we hope that Governor Asa Hutchinson is taking notice. Where leadership has failed Arkansans on the state level, local municipalities like Eureka Springs have taken the initiative to ensure that all their residents are rightfully protected from all forms of discrimination.”
Conservatives led the push for the Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act, which would “improve intrastate commerce by ensuring that businesses, organizations and employers doing business in the state are subject to uniform non-discrimination laws and obligations,” said Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, the original sponsor of SB 202.
Hester pushed for the legislation following controversy over passage of an ordinance in Fayetteville that would have banned discrimination in housing, work and public accommodations involving sexual orientation or gender identity. The ordinance was later repealed by Fayetteville voters during a special election in December.
Those promoting repeal of Ordinance 2223 said federal law already provides for employment protection and housing protection.
“Unlike the claims made by the proponents of Ordinance 2223, current EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) regulations already allow an individual to file an employment based discrimination claim against an employer based on gender identity. It has been declared for all federal jobs and EEOC complaints on a state level have also been heard,” noted the Repeal2223 website.
The repeal group also attacked leaders and attorneys with Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign.
“They work to shame and intimidate anyone who stands against them. They are organized, well funded, and have one singular purpose. They do not care about any other protected rights or how these SOGI (Sexual Orientation Gender Identity) laws, while intended for good, may also negatively affect a local community,” noted the repeal group.
The “Keep Eureka Fair” group advocating for support of 2223 said the ordinance would not require – as some alleged – churches to perform same-sex marriages or any other service that went against their beliefs.
“The NDO does not require any religious or denominational institution or association to host any ceremony, including but not limited to weddings, funerals, confirmations or baptisms, for any individual or group in its chapel or sanctuary,” noted the group’s website.
They also countered the concern that the ordinance would require churches to hire those who did not share their beliefs. The group noted: “The Ordinance states, in part, that ‘[n]othing contained in this chapter shall be deemed to prohibit a religious or denominational institution from selecting or rejecting applicants and employees for non-secular positions on the basis of the applicant’s or employee’s conformance with the institution’s religious or denominational principles.’”