Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.)Photo: AP
Last week, after a series of lightning-fast votes during just two weeks, the Arkansas legislature delivered SB 202 to Governor Asa Hutchinson’s desk. If it becomes law, this bill will preempt local nondiscrimination laws and policies that offer protections on any basis not yet included in state law.
The purpose of the law is to prevent any legal protections for LGBT people, and everyone knows this.
SB 202 was passed to thwart cities like Fayetteville and Eureka Springs that recently have enacted sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination protections. So if Governor Hutchinson allows this bill to take effect, it will amount to a giant, flashing “Gays Stay Away” sign.
It will block sincere local efforts to show that Arkansas communities are welcoming places beckoning talent, innovation and workforce diversity.
It will do precisely what Arizona’s Governor Brewer decided to avoid last year when she vetoed that state’s “discrimination as religion” bill.
Governor Hutchinson has just until Monday, February 23rd to veto SB 202 and many Arkansans have been calling on him all week to do so. As legal organizations working to end discrimination against LGBT people throughout America, we reinforce their call and explain why here.
SB 202 is misleadingly called the “Intrastate 30 Commerce Improvement Act.” But make no mistake – this bill is not about alleviating drags on commerce within Arkansas, and no one truly thinks it is.
A bill with that goal might, for example, reduce the variation in municipal tax rates and other local rules that actually can bedevil businesses. But it’s not burdensome for businesses to treat gay and transgender people fairly. In fact, dozens of research studies have found again and again that ending discrimination, and supporting diversity, is good for business.
So the real purpose isn’t helping businesses, it’s targeting LGBT people. This is obvious from the sponsors’ consistent and constant claims that this is needed because of an ordinance in Fayetteville that provided protections for LGBT people.
And as in Arizona last year, the speed of the bill has meant the critiques are now coming in a wave after the legislature whizzed the bill through.
Recalling Colorado’s fatally flawed Amendment 2, which years ago explicitly targeted lesbians, gay men and bisexuals (and not heterosexuals), many are asking whether SB 202 is a similarly unconstitutional denial of equal protection.
When the Supreme Court struck down Amendment 2 in Romer v. Evans, it underscored that the case record revealed anti-gay “animus” propelling the popular vote and no legitimate government reasons for precluding local nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people, and for no one else.