The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday overturned a city ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but did not say whether a state law to ban these protections for the LGBT community is constitutional or not.
The judges reversed a decision that the Fayetteville anti-discrimination ordinance did not violate a state law that prohibits municipalities from establishing protections that are not covered by state laws. Fayetteville, a liberal enclave in northwest Arkansas, is one of several cities that approved local protections for lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender people in response to the 2015 law.
Arkansas civil rights law does not cover sexual orientation or gender identity.
In a unanimous decision, the judges rejected the argument made by Fayetteville and other cities that have passed such ordinances that are covered in other areas of state law.
The court ruled that these other laws, including a law against intimidation, are not related to anti-discrimination laws and do not create new types of protections. The judges emphasized that the 2015 law is intended to create uniform anti-discrimination measures in the state.
“The Fayetteville ordinance violates the clear wording of Act 137, in creating anti-discrimination laws in the city of Fayetteville to include two classifications that were not previously included under state law,” the court said. “This necessarily creates a non-discriminatory, non-uniform law and an obligation on the city of Fayetteville that does not exist under the law.”
The judges said they could not rule over the constitutionality of the law as this had not been addressed by the lower court and sent the case back to the Washington County judges, who ratified the Fayetteville ordinance. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, whose office had asked the court to ratify state law, said “she was grateful for the court’s ruling”.