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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 4, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 10
Arkansas judge upholds Fayetteville nondiscrimination law
Section One
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Arkansas judge upholds Fayetteville nondiscrimination law

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

In a March 1 ruling, an Arkansas state judge upheld a Fayetteville ordinance barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

An Arkansas law forbids cities from passing civil rights protections for groups not already protected by state law, but Judge Doug Martin ruled that the Fayetteville measure does not conflict with that law.

Martin found that since sexual orientation and gender are mentioned in Arkansas state law, the Fayetteville ordinance should stand.

'Clearly, the classifications of gender identity and sexual orientation were classifications of persons protected on bases contained in state law prior to the enactment of [Fayetteville's ordinance],' Martin wrote.

'I think it's a great victory for equality,' said Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan. 'It's a great day when you can see law, fairness, and justice come together.'

The state law limiting city civil rights ordinances was intended to prevent Arkansas cities from protecting their LGBT residents, and Fayetteville officials had argued that it was unconstitutional. Martin did not rule on that claim, and city spokespeople said they expect that issue to be resolved by the state Supreme Court.

Arkansas' Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson allowed the restriction on local ordinances to become law without his signature, saying he worried that it would infringe on local governments.

Fayetteville's ordinance is similar to an anti-discrimination measure approved by voters in the neighboring tourist town of Eureka Springs. Little Rock, Hot Springs and Pulaski County also have approved more scaled-back ordinances that apply only to their agencies and contractors.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, said in a non-binding advisory opinion last year that the local ordinances were unenforceable because of state law. Rutledge had intervened in the lawsuit challenging Fayetteville's ordinance.

Rutledge 'respectfully disagrees with the ruling,' her spokesman Judd Deere said. 'She'll continue to evaluate it and make a determination concerning any potential appeal.'

Martin's decision is the first court victory for opponents of the state law.

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