John M. Becker

Arkansas 'License to Discriminate' Bill Fails

Filed By John M. Becker | February 26, 2015 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Arkansas, Christianists, license to discriminate, religion-based bigotry, religious freedom, religious liberty, special rights

arkansas-state-capitol.jpgYesterday, the Arkansas Senate Judiciary Committee voted down HB 1228, which would have made it legal for people and businesses to discriminate if they said they were doing it for religious reasons. The Associated Press reports:

The Senate Judiciary Committee rejected the "conscience protection" measure, a day after retail giant Wal-Mart said the measure sent the wrong message about its home state and Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he had reservations about the bill...

Opponents called the measure a thinly veiled way to allow businesses to discriminate against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. One critic compared it to the 19th century U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld racial segregation of public facilities under the "separate but equal" doctrine.

"It is 1896 old, Plessy v. Ferguson, and it is wicked, and for that reason I ask you to please, please not pass it," Wendell Griffen, a Pulaski County circuit judge and Baptist pastor, told the panel.

The measure faced tougher odds than the local ordinances restriction, since it went before a committee evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. The vote was 3-3 with one member voting present, short of the five votes needed to advance.

This is good news for the Arkansas LGBT community, which is still reeling from the passage this week of SB 202, a bill that effectively bans cities from enacting LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances. Gov. Hutchinson allowed the measure to become law on Monday without his signature.

But as for HB 1228 -- according to the Washington Blade's Chris Johnson, it may not be dead yet:

[T]he defeat of HB 1228 isn't the end of the legislation and supporters of the anti-LGBT measure could resurrect it in a number of ways. Holly Dickson, an attorney at the ACLU of Arkansas, said they can try to get it passed in committee twice more and the Senate as a body could also pull it from committee for a floor vote.

John Reed, a spokesperson for the Arkansas Senate, said the "bill is not dead" and there are "several ways to keep plugging" away at it, including winning more support in committee for a successful vote at a later time. "It's not a hard and fast death for the bill," Reed said, noting there's still "plenty of time" in the legislative session to move forward with the measure.

As always, those of us who support LGBT civil rights must remain vigilant against our opponents' machinations. For a list of other state-level attacks on LGBT people, click here.

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