Little Rock, the capital of Arkansas
In an astonishing move, the US state of Arkansas has passed a new law that will bar cities and counties from enacting local non-discrimination laws that protect LGBT people.
The Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act nullifies all local anti-discrimination laws affecting groups not already protected under the state’s laws, which do not currently encompass LGBT people.
Under the guise of attempting to simplify doing business in the state, the act effectively disallows cities from addressing anti-discrimination gaps in state law.
The bill was passed with an overwhelming majority in the legislature, and Governor Asa Hutchinson ignored impassioned pleas to veto the law, allowing it to come into effect on Tuesday.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arkansas insisted that the law’s “real purpose isn’t helping businesses, it’s targeting LGBT people.” It noted that the law was drafted in direct response to local sexual orientation and gender identity non-discrimination protections passed in Arkansas cities like Fayetteville and Eureka Springs.
It also argued that, “it’s not burdensome for businesses to treat gay and transgender people fairly. In fact, dozens of research studies have found again and again that ending discrimination, and supporting diversity, is good for business.”
Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, told AP that the act is “just another scar on the face of a state that really doesn’t need any more signs of an intolerance toward outsiders, toward people that some people disapprove of.”
Multinational retailer Walmart, which is based in Bentonville, Arkansas, issued a statement condemning the legislation on Monday night, a move that was criticised as being too little too late.
“It all starts with the core basic belief of respect for the individual,” said Walmart spokesman Lorenzo Lopez. “And that means understanding and respecting differences and being inclusive of all people. We feel this legislation is counter to this core basic belief and sends the wrong message about Arkansas.”
Shockingly, the state will next consider another bill that, if passed, would allow people and businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians if it’s on the basis of religious beliefs.