Arkansas enacts law that opponents say targets gays

Mon Feb 23, 2015 8:22pm EST
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By Steve Barnes

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Reuters) - An Arkansas bill that prohibits cities and local governments from establishing anti-discrimination codes that differ from state law was enacted on Monday, with opponents saying the measure is aimed at blocking moves to protect gays in the state.

"The Conscience Protection Act” was passed last week by overwhelming margins in both the state House and Senate, which Republicans control with significant majorities. It became law on Monday, and will take effect in 90 days.

Left-leaning pockets in the socially conservative state have enacted, or are looking to enact, legislation that forbids discrimination in their jurisdictions based on sexual orientation and gender.

"It’s definitely targeting us," said Tippi McCullogh of Little Rock, a teacher who is president of the Arkansas chapter of Stonewall Democrats, an advocacy group for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals. 

"It takes away what little protections LGBTs in Arkansas have," McCullogh said.

Backers of the law said it is aimed at promoting a healthy business climate by letting employers know there is one set of laws when it comes to protecting people from discrimination in Arkansas.

But activists say current Arkansas law affords little protection for the LGBT against discrimination in housing, employment and commercial services.

A principal sponsor of the legislation, Representative Bob Ballinger, said the issue at stake was religious liberty.   Continued...