The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday that the city of Fayetteville could not enforce its ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The high court said it had already determined the measure was in violation of state law that prevents cities from passing non-discrimination ordinances that offer protections not already offered by the state, which does not include the LGBTQ community. There is also no federal law protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination in areas such as employment and housing.
The ruling reverses Washington County Judge Doug Martin's decision to allow Fayetteville to continue enforcing its anti-discrimination ordinance while it challenged the constitutionality of the state's 2015 law preventing such laws by cities and municipalities from being enacted. The court did not rule on whether that law is constitutional, but cited its 2017 decision that Fayetteville's ordinance violated state law.
A view of Mount Sequoyah in Fayetteville, from the campus of the University of Arkansas.
"However this comes out—Fayetteville is on the record as a welcoming community, but it’s not over yet. However this comes out in the end, we’re not done yet," said Fayetteville City Council Member Kyle Smith, 40/29 news reports.
Fayetteville City Attorney Kit Williams said he will issue a petition for a rehearing before the state's high court, and has two weeks to do so.
"The city has never had an attempt to defend a citizen-passed ordinance by showing that the state law was an unequal protection of the laws," Williams said, according to the Associated Press. "It seems very strange that they would deny us the right to at least present that constitutional argument to them for their decision."
"We are currently reviewing these decisions and determining our next steps in defending the rights of LGBTQ Arkansans. Importantly, no court has yet decided whether Act 137 was unconstitutionally passed to discriminate against LGBTQ residents, a claim that we will continue to pursue," said Holly Dickson of the ACLU, the Arkansas Times reports.
Attorney General Rutledge said in a statement that the ruling reaffirms "the State’s authority to ensure uniformity of anti-discrimination laws statewide and to prevent businesses from facing a patchwork of nondiscrimination ordinances."