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Arkansas passes anti-anti-discrimination law

A bill legalizing discrimination against homosexuals passed the Arkansas legislature two weeks ago. In the midst of heavy anti-gay sentiment in the South,  all eyes were on Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who could make the final decision to veto the hateful legislation.

Though the bill received national attention, there was little opposition apart from local civil and human rights groups. Governor Hutchinson took no action before the deadline to veto SB 202, allowing it to become state law on Monday morning. The lack of action extended to national politicians and businesses as well. Big names like Bill and Hillary Clinton along with Wal-Mart, all have close ties to Arkansas and were equally silent in the matter until after the bill had passed.

A handful of national organizations such as American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights tried to rally others to their cause, condemning the bill as “nothing but discriminatory intent.” Outright discrimination is clearly the goal for Arkansas lawmakers, but their understanding of the consequences is foggy at best.

In a group press release, the civil rights organizations questioned Arkansas politicians’ motivations, stating, “No valid public interest can possibly be served by allowing private businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity or other characteristics that might be covered by local ordinances.”

The bill is similar to previous attempts to discriminate against gay communities in that “[The law] seems inexplicable by anything but animus toward the class that it affects; it lacks a rational relationship to legitimate state interests,” according to an excerpt from the Supreme Court decision in  Romer v. Evans, a case involving a law in Colorado that specifically prohibited gay people from receiving protection against discrimination.

That bill was struck down because it violated the Equal Protection Clause. Unfortunately, SB 202 has dodged this legal precedent by avoiding the words gay and homosexual altogether. Instead of directly legalizing discrimination against gay people, the bill aims to standardize discrimination laws across the state (which has not included sexual orientation under its non-discrimination clause), preventing more liberal communities from enacting anti-discrimination laws to include gay people.

 

 

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