By Bob Allen
In a special referendum ballot Dec. 9, citizens in Fayetteville, Ark., voted 52 percent to 48 percent to repeal an anti-discrimination ordinance adopted in August by the City Council.
The City Council passed the ordinance barring “discrimination based on real or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, age, gender, gender identity, gender expression, familial status, marital status, socioeconomic background, religion, sexual orientation, disability and veteran status” in employment, housing and public accommodations during a 10-hour meeting dominated by citizen comments.
A group called Repeal 119, however, collected enough signatures to put the ordinance on hold and force the special election, which the City Council said cost about $40,000.
“I think the voters in Fayetteville saw this for what it was,” Larry Page of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council said in an Arkansas Baptist News podcast. “Even though it was styled an anti-discrimination ordinance, it wasn’t that at all. It was an ordinance to grant special privileges and protection to a class of homosexuals, and particularly transgendered persons, and that would have been at the expense of the religious liberty and speech rights of everyone else.”
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said the repeal vote “represents a victory for religious freedom.”
“The city of Fayetteville had previously passed one of the most broadly written and troubling non-discrimination bills I had ever seen, which endangered untold number of men and women seeking to peaceably live their lives according to the dictates of the gospel and their conscience,” Moore said in a statement published by Baptist Press. “Instead, the people of Fayetteville have insisted that religious freedom will not be brushed aside by city officials.”
Kendra Johnson, Arkansas director of the Human Rights Campaign, termed the vote “a deeply disappointing reminder that equality doesn’t always move forward in a straight line.”
Johnson said repeal of the ordinance “will inflict direct harm on LGBT Arkansans, their families and their friends.” Still, she said she remains convinced “that the progress of fairness will continue despite this result.”
“All Arkansans should have the legal right to live safely within their communities, homes and workplaces, and the day will come soon when LGBT young people will wake up in this state and enjoy true equality under the law,” she said. “We’ll keep up the fight until that dream is achieved.”