Arkansas Attorney General Enters Local LGBT Rights Debate

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In Arkansas, state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is appealing a judge's decision to uphold an ordinance in Fayetteville that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

She says that the ruling violates state law, which bars cities and counties from instituting non-discrimination protections that are not provided by the state.

A similar new law in North Carolina received widespread public criticism. Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson speaks with Rutledge about why she is moving forward with the appeal.

Interview Highlights: Leslie Rutledge

Why go down this road?

"Well, keep in mind that my job as Attorney General is to defend state law, and it's my duty to provide the court with the state's view of the law and its constitutionality. That's why I intervened in this case to begin with and why I have chosen to appeal the lower court's decision."

What does the state law say?

"That in Arkansas, in Act 137, a local ordinance cannot be enacted or enforced if it creates a protected class or prohibits discrimination on a basis not already contained in state law. And the ordinances at issue do just that. They add a classification. In this particular ordinance, in Fayetteville, the lawsuit is about LGBT protection, and I understand that this is a sensitive and emotional and highly politicized issue but, again, it's my duty to defend the state's law which states, clearly, and this is Act 137, that an ordinance cannot create a protected class or prohibit discrimination on a basis not already contained in state law. That does not mean that the legislature couldn't change the law to add that protected class, or that the citizens could not put forth a statewide initiative or amendment to add that protected class."

Should citizens push for the addition of that protected class?

"I believe that, given the opportunity, that citizens, whether through the legislative body or through a petition, should do so if that is their desire."

Do you worry that Arkansas might be perceived as an anti-gay state because of the appeal?

"What I think is important is the process, and that's why I mentioned that, because I believe it's important that the state's statute is very clear that no local ordinance can go beyond what state law has. That way, Arkansas doesn't have a patchwork quilt of protections but rather that it is a statewide protection and that's why Act 137 was put in place. That's what our legislative body decided and the governor signed off on."


This segment aired on April 5, 2016.


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