Arkansas attorney general will appeal after judge upholds local anti-discrimination statute
The Arkansas attorney general said on Wednesday her office will appeal a judge’s decision that upheld a city of Fayetteville ordinance forbidding discrimination against members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, said her office will ask the state’s Supreme Court to strike down the decision because the ordinance runs counter to a state law barring localities from broadening their own non-discrimination measures beyond the state’s measures.
The state does not bar discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
“I disagreed with the lower court’s decision,” Rutledge said in a statement. “Given my duty to fully defend state law, I am seeking to appeal the ruling to the Arkansas Supreme Court.”
A circuit judge in Fayetteville, about 150 miles northwest of Little Rock, ruled in March the city’s ordinance did not conflict with state law restricting protected status to only the criteria the state specified.
The Fayetteville ordinance, approved by voters at a referendum election last year, is similar to those enacted by several Arkansas cities and counties in recent months including Little Rock, the state capitol, and Eureka Springs, an Ozarks community with a substantial gay population.
Efforts to advance or, conversely, limit legal protections for the LGBT community have sparked political tumult in several southern states in recent weeks.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, under heavy pressure from the state’s business community, on Monday said he would veto a so-called “religious freedom” bill widely viewed as allowing discrimination against gays.
North Carolina last week became the first state to enact a law requiring transgender people to choose restrooms that match the gender on their birth certificate rather than the one with which they identify.
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat who is running for governor, said this week his office will not defend the law, calling the measure shameful and unconstitutional.
After coming under intense pressure from business and rights groups, Indiana and Arkansas last year revised religious freedom acts approved by their Republican-controlled legislatures, offering fixes to language that critics said would have allowed people to invoke the laws to deny services to gay and lesbian customers.
(Reporting by Steve Barnes in Little Rock; Writing by Jon Herskovitz)