LITTLE ROCK — A group dropped its campaign on Thursday to repeal an Arkansas law aimed at prohibiting cities and counties from extending anti-discrimination protections to gays and lesbians.
Arkansans to Protect Local Rights announced it would no longer circulate petitions to let voters decide whether to keep the law, which prevents cities and counties from banning discrimination not covered in state law. Arkansas’s civil rights law doesn’t include sexual orientation or gender identity.
The group said in a statement provided to The Associated Press that it was instead focusing on pushing for expanded anti-discrimination ordinances despite the new law.
"Our ultimate goal, the commitment to advance equality and promote local control, is best achieved through partnering with our communities in support of (non-discrimination ordinances)," the group said.
The group faced a July 22 deadline to submit more than 51,000 signatures from registered voters to put the referendum on the November 2016 ballot. David Couch, the attorney who organized the campaign, said it had collected more than 10,000 signatures.
Couch said the group agreed with the argument from Little Rock’s city attorney and others that the new Arkansas law doesn’t actually prohibit local protections for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. They’ve pointed to other state laws that include protections for LGBT people.
"I think we could have done it if we kept pushing, but it got to, why are we trying to repeal something that doesn’t really prohibit what we want to do?" Couch said.
Arkansas was the second state after Tennessee to enact such a restriction on local governments when the law was approved by the Legislature earlier this year. Supporters argued it provided uniformity in local civil rights laws, while opponents cast it as anti-gay and said it infringed on local control.
If the referendum had qualified for the ballot, it would have been temporarily suspended until the vote.
The law, which takes effect July 22, has led several local governments around the state to pass varying anti-discrimination ordinances that could prompt legal challenges. Voters in the northwestern Arkansas city of Eureka Springs last month voted to uphold an ordinance banning the city and businesses from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and a similar measure will go before Fayetteville’s voters in September.
Officials in Little Rock, Hot Springs and Pulaski County have approved more scaled-back discrimination ordinances that only apply to city employees and vendors.