LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The mayor of a northwest Arkansas city on Tuesday said a measure banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will continue being enforced despite a new state law aimed at prohibiting such ordinances.
Eureka Springs Mayor Robert "Butch" Berry said the city has no plans to back down from its ordinance, approved by voters in May. It bans agencies and businesses from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
The measure was adopted as a challenge to a law taking effect Wednesday that prohibits cities and counties from banning discrimination on a basis not covered by state law. Arkansas' civil rights law doesn't include sexual orientation or gender identity.
"At this point in time we still, after consulting with various attorneys, we feel that state law still allows us to have this ordinance in effect," Berry said.
He said the attorneys agreed with the argument other cities have made that the state measure doesn't prevent local protections for LGBT people, since sexual orientation and gender identity are included in other parts of state law.
Republican Rep. Bob Ballinger, who sponsored the new law, said he doubts the city will actively enforce the ordinance and that he's confident it would get struck down in court. So far, the only complaint accusing a business of violating the ordinance — for refusing to perform a same-sex wedding — was dismissed by the mayor as constitutionally protected.
"I think it's pretty elementary to analyze the statute and see what its intent was and what it will do," said Ballinger, whose district includes Eureka Springs.
Eureka Springs' decision means at least four municipalities will have varying anti-discrimination ordinances on the books that could spark a legal fight over the new state law. Officials in Little Rock, Hot Springs and Pulaski County have said they'll keep enforcing their ordinances banning discrimination by their agencies or vendors, and Fayetteville voters in September are considering a broader anti-discrimination ordinance similar to the one in Eureka Springs.
The law doesn't prevent a local government from adopting anti-discrimination protections that only cover its employees and agencies. The only advisory opinion issued by Attorney General Leslie Rutledge about the law hasn't specifically said whether the local ordinances adopted so far would be prohibited.
The Arkansas Family Council, a conservative group that supported the new law, said last week it's reaching out to Little Rock vendors as it explores a legal challenge to that city's ordinance.