Residents protest court decision
Rally for Fayetteville’s Civil Rights Ordinance draws 100-plus
FAYETTEVILLE — Protesters said they got the message from the Arkansas Supreme Court regarding the city’s Civil Rights Ordinance but wanted to make clear a message of their own.
“Two, four, six, eight, civil rights will conquer hate,” rally participants chanted at the corner of College Avenue and Dickson Street on Friday evening. Signs, some handmade and many left over from the September 2015 referendum on Ordinance 5781, dotted the intersection.
More than 100 people came out, many of whom had participated in the For Fayetteville campaign. Madison
Beeler of Fayetteville wore a cassock and “funny hat,” the traditional garb of the clergy, as his standard rally uniform, he said.
Beeler kept his signs from last time. He had a feeling they’d come in use again.
“What we’re fighting for is so much more than my cold little fingers right now or how hungry I am because I just got off work,” he said. “This is so much more.”
The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday ruled the city’s Civil Rights Ordinance violates a state law, the Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act, commonly known as Act 137. The law calls for uniform discrimination laws statewide set by the state Legislature.
The state House passed the law seven months before Fayetteville voters approved the Civil Rights Ordinance by a 53-47 percent margin. An opposition group, Protect Fayetteville, sued and the state intervened in the litigation.
The state Supreme Court in an unanimous opinion ruled the city’s ordinance violates the state law. However, the constitutionality of the state law remains in question and has been thrown back to a lower court for a ruling.
Fayetteville City Attorney Kit Williams said he intends to continue to enforce the ordinance until the Circuit Court makes a decision or if the ordinance is stayed.
Travis Story, attorney for Protect Fayetteville, said he agreed the state Supreme Court didn’t directly void the ordinance, but a stay from Circuit Court Judge Doug Martin is the only logical course of action.
Story said he couldn’t speak for the state Legislature but is ready to argue the constitutionality of Act 137. Having different ordinances on discrimination in different
municipalities throughout the state makes it confusing to everyone regardless of the side of the argument, he said.
“The other side is trying to define some kind of ill intent without looking at the practical, real-world solution that’s also there,” Story said.
John Treat, who stood at the northwest corner of the intersection with his partner, Jayme Dohrn, said the uniformity argument doesn’t pass muster. Different cities have different sales tax rates, he used as an example.
“The court made the correct ruling on what it ruled on, but it had an opportunity
to rule on the underlying constitutionality of the state statute, which it did not do,” Treat said. “Hopefully, they will do the right thing and overturn that statute when it makes its way back up the chain again on appeal.”
Dohrn said he moved to Fayetteville four years ago from Fort Smith in part because he knew his civil rights would be more respected. He decried “hate legislation,” namely so-called “bathroom bills” requiring people to use restrooms corresponding to
the sex they’re born with.
“It’s time for everybody to start standing up for civil rights and stop hate legislation,” he said. “This is a great place to live and I want it to stay that way.”
Kati McFarland, whose persistent questioning of U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. during a Town Hall in Springdale on Thursday made internet headlines and local buzz, said it seemed clear to her the state’s legislators and highest court intended to discriminate.
“No one is ignorant of the reasons why,” she said. “You don’t even need a dog whistle.”
Niki O’Brien of Fayetteville holds a rainbow flag Friday during a rally in reaction to an Arkansas State Supreme Court decision Thursday finding Fayetteville’s city ordinance extending protections to the LGBT community is in violation of state law.
Kyle Smith (right) of For Fayetteville gets help Friday from Elizabeth Petray (center) and Blake Pennington to assemble signs during a rally in reaction to an Arkansas State Supreme Court decision Thursday finding Fayetteville’s city ordinance extending protections to the LGBT community is in violation of state law.