The Arkansas bill — which the anti-gay Family Research Council's Tony Perkins says is a "roadmap" for states across the country — is much more stealth, and much more wide-ranging and dangerous. GOP Governor Asa Hutchinson said he won't veto it and thus will let it become law next week. It bans cities, towns and counties in the state from enacting laws protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in housing, employment or public accommodation. But because it never mentions these groups — it simply says no law shall protect a group not already protected under state law — and presents itself as pro-business and trying to maintain consistencies for businesses throughout the state, it has traveled under the radar.
Because of the wording it may also withstand court scrutiny. The Supreme Court has ruled that a state can't single out gays with this kind of law, but Arkansas can argue, as Tennessee successfully did [but only on procedural grounds] after a similar law it passed was challenged in the courts, that no group is targeted specifically. This kind of bill could be used to take away LGBT protections in cities and towns in the 29 states that don't have statewide protections but where municipalities have passed such laws, affecting millions of LGBT Americans.
And whether it holds up in court or not it means years of discrimination, uncertainty and ugly rhetoric in the political environment, which also then feeds the gay-bashers on the streets. And it's part of the right's plan to roll back LGBT rights while many LGBT people become complacent or apathetic, buying into this idea that full civil rights are inevitable, pointing, for example, to polling about young people being more accepting, and, well, doing pretty much what many women foolishly did in the early years of the backlash against women's liberation.
It's perplexing, but this seems to be part of a cocky strategy to act like winners and not give credence or attention to the haters. But when a state successfully passes an abhorrent, dangerous bill like the one in Arkansas, the only response is a loud, public condemnation, and demands that all your allies, including your business and political allies, speak out and condemn it. No matter if you lose, you must always show the opposition you will put up a nasty fight.
By Chad Griffin
Arkansas values and Arkansas jobs are under attack. The culprit? A handful of politicians in Little Rock. Two bills—one already on Governor Hutchinson’s desk and one currently under debate in the Senate—threaten to cripple Arkansas’ reputation as a welcoming state and cost this state millions of dollars in frivolous lawsuits and lost jobs.
Let’s start with the first bill—Senate Bill 202. This bill usurps the right of cities and towns across this state to pass their own local non-discrimination laws and ordinances—a spiteful move intended to deny many Arkansans critical protections under the law. Frankly, I’m not convinced most in the Arkansas legislature even read it before they voted for it, because if they did they would have realized the economic harm it will cause.
If Governor Asa Hutchinson allows SB 202 to become law, a city like Conway or Hot Springs will be unable to attract investment and jobs from national businesses. These towns will lose local control and simply have no choice but to turn down good paying jobs for Arkansas citizens. Governor Hutchinson has indicated that he is prepared to let SB 202 become law, but I want to urge him one final time to veto this bill. The economic consequences will be grave and the reputation of this great state is at risk.
The second bill threatens to do even more damage to Arkansas’ values and jobs. House Bill 1228 claims to be about religious freedom, but in fact opens the door to frivolous lawsuits, discrimination and economic harm. As a native Arkansan, I grew up going to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night and, if Mom got her way, Wednesday night too. Faith is critically important—that’s why it’s protected in the federal constitution and under federal and state law. Make no mistake about it, HB 1228 has nothing to do with private religious practice. It has everything to do with opening the door to legal chaos—undermining values like fairness, justice, and “love thy neighbor” in an attempt to justify discrimination
If this HB 1228 becomes law, it could empower a doctor to withhold critical medical information from a patient because providing that information would conflict with the doctor’s personal religious beliefs. It could allow a police officer to refuse to patrol or defend the area around a church, synagogue or a mosque. It could allow a landlord to refuse to rent an apartment to a single mother. It could even allow an EMT to refuse to treat a person dying in the street, if that EMT cited their religion as a reason for refusing to do so.
I’m proud to call Arkansas my home state—the place where my entire extended family has lived for years. I know these bills do not reflect the Arkansas values. They certainly do not reflect this state’s commitment to growing a 21st Century economy that attracts good paying jobs—and to guaranteeing a business climate that welcomes everyone who is willing to work hard and build a better future for themselves and for their community. These kinds of political attacks have been rejected by Republicans and Democrats all across this country. Let’s not let Arkansas be dragged backward by an unrepresentative minority.
We can and must stop these sorts of bills before it’s too late—the consequences to this state’s economy and reputation will be grave. Please join me in telling Governor Hutchinson to veto SB 202—and call your Senator to halt HB 1228 before it can proceed any further. It’s time to tell the politicians in Little Rock not to undermine this state’s commitment to fairness and opportunity for everyone—after all, these are the real Arkansas values.
Chad Griffin is the President of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization.