Thursday, February 12, 2015

In the News This Week: Arkansas

More interlocking news links: while all that (see my previous posting) has been going on in Alabama, this week, our state legislators in Arkansas have been busy little beavers as they beat their anti-gay drum and their religious-liberty drum to appeal to their evangelical base:

As Max Brantley reports for Arkansas Times, though race remains a live issue in a state whose new GOP-dominated legislature has just rejected a bill to separate Martin Luther King, Jr., day from Robert E. Lee day, the discrimination du jour is anti-gay discrimination:

While race bubbles on as a major issue in Arkansas, the class at the forefront of modern discrimination in the legislature was the focus of a House committee hearing the pro-gay-discrimination legislation already passed in the Senate to prevent local governments from passing laws to protect LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

The legislation to which Brantley is referring is legislation that the GOP-led state senate has just passed to prohibit any municipality from enacting ordinances protecting LGBT citizens from discrimination; Brantley reports,

Leadership of the Arkansas Democratic Party today announced its opposition to Sen. Bart Hester's bill to preserve legal discrimination against gay people. It was passed shortly after by the Senate, with three Democrats in support. 
Hester's bill would prohibit local governments from extending civil rights protection to any class not covered in state law. It is a response to the Fayetteville civil rights ordinance extending protection in employment, housing and public accommodations to LGBT people.

With grand irony, at the very same time that the state legislature wants to deny all municipalities the right to pass legislation protecting LGBT citizens from discrimination, it's entertaining the idea that municipalities should enjoy the right to reject fluoridated water systems: Brantley writes,

These sponsors are, of course, likely to provide a bloc of votes AGAINST local control when it comes to equal treatment under the law for gay people. Legal discrimination against LGBT people is much too important to be left to local citizens. Tooth decay is another matter.

As Max Brantley also points out, on the evening following the senate's passing of a bill prohibiting cities and towns from enacting ordinances to protect LGBT citizens from discrimination, the city council of Eureka Springs met to pass just such an ordinance:

Eureka passed the ordinance hours after the state Senate approved Sen. Bart Hester's bill to ban local governments from passing such ordinances. The law was a response to a similar ordinance passed in Fayetteville and later repealed by voters.

As all of this is taking place, religious liberty, y'all! As Benjamin Hardy writes

A bill by Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Hindsville) entitled the Conscience Protection Act passed the House Judiciary committee today on a voice vote. Along with Sen. Bart Hester’s SB 202, the legislation is widely seen as a conservative response to Fayetteville's attempt last fall to prohibit housing or employment discrimination against LGBT people and other groups via a city ordinance.

And it's not just Arkansas: as news reports this week including this one in Reuters have noted, in an act of meretricious spite this week, the governor Kansas, Sam Brownback (a Catholic-R), suddenly rescinded an executive order of previous governor Kathleen Sibelius (also Catholic-D) affording protection from discrimination to LGBT state workers:

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, a conservative Republican re-elected in November, on Tuesday rescinded an executive order issued by a Democratic predecessor that offered protections for gay and bisexual state workers.

Finally, as Max Brantley asks, shouldn't the ugly defiance of Alabama spur the Arkansas Supremes to act — at long last — to remove the stay they placed on same-sex marriage last May, since Arkansas surely does not want to be seen as a version of Alabama:

Might the refusal of U.S. Supreme Court to act [to stop same-sex marriages in Alabama] light a fire under Arkansas Supreme Court, dithering for three months now on an 'expedited' case?

The reality is, Arkansas is a version of Alabama. Both are states with strongly dominant evangelical cultures that were once so committed to the practice of slavery that both states seceded from the Union. In both states, resistance to the rights of people of color by white citizens has been relentless and fierce.

That resistance is now being manifested as resistance to the rights of another persecuted minority group, LGBT folks. As Richard Florida's studies on the creative class have demonstrated, bright, creative, educated younger people tend not to move to parts of the country that openly practice bigotry. Areas that thrive on prejudice and promote discrimination against targeted minority groups are more likely to be uneducated, mired in the kind of generation-to-generation poverty that stems from lack of education, and without much to offer educated and creative people.

As an older gay man born and raised in Arkansas, who still lives here due to family obligations, I would not encourage younger gay people, or people with education, to consider Arkansas as a place to live. Not when it's led by people of the ilk of our current legislature. By clowns of the ilk of our current GOP-controlled legislature . . . .

The graphic is a 1950s postcard with the then-slogan of the state of Arkansas, "Land of Opportunity," from the website of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

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