Fayetteville, Arkansas votes to repeal civil rights law threatening religious liberty

Fayetteville, Arkansas, where residents have voted to repeal a civil rights law.Reuters

Residents of Fayetteville, Arkansas have voted to repeal a civil rights law, which was thought to be a threat to religious liberty.

'Ordinance 119', which prohibited employers and landlords from discriminating on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic background, marital status, religion, disability or veteran status, was passed by the city council on 20 August.

Churches, business owners and the city's chamber of commerce were among those who campaigned against the legislation, saying that it was an attack on rights enshrined in the Constitution of the United States and the Arkansas Constitution.

More than 5,000 people signed a petition against the ordinance in September, forcing the council to call a vote on the repeal.

On Tuesday 9 December, 52 per cent of voters (7,253 votes) supported the move to overturn it with 48 per cent (7,040 votes) against.

Southern Baptists campaigned against the law locally and nationally, claiming that it posed a threat to churches.

The ordinance meant that religious organisations were not to discriminate in their employment procedure on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression for 'secular' positions, such as a secretary or receptionist.

Business owners were not able to prevent ceremonies being held on their property to which they had an ideological or religious objection.

Opponents also had concerns about the safety of women and children, as formerly male transgender people would be permitted to use female toilets and changing rooms.

President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious liberty Commission, Russell Moore, told the Baptist Press: "The city of Fayetteville had previously passed one of the most broadly written and troubling non-discrimination bills I had ever seen, which endangered untold number of men and women seeking to peaceably live their lives according to the dictates of the Gospel and their conscience.

"Instead, the people of Fayetteville have insisted that religious freedom will not be brushed aside by city officials."

The ordinance was originally supported by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), America's largest political organisation for LGBT rights. Arkansas HRC director Kendra Johnson told the Baptist Press that the organisation remains convinced that "the progress of fairness will continue despite this result." She added that HRC will "keep up the fight" for "true equality."

In 1998 Fayetteville voters repealed a similar law protecting the employment rights of homosexuals.

According to HRC there are four southern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee) with no cities with LGBT ordinances.