Fayetteville approves civil rights ordinance

Last week more than a quarter of registered Fayetteville voters cast their ballot, approving Ordinance No. 5781: the Uniform Civil Rights Protection Ordinance.

The new ordinance states, “The right of an otherwise qualified person to be free from discrimination because of sexual orientation and gender identity is the same right of every citizen to be free from discrimination because of race, religion, national origin, gender and disability as recognized and protected by the Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993.”

Voting was open from Sept. 1 until Sept. 8. 52.77 percent of voters voted “Yes” on the ballot, while 47.23 percent voted “No,” a margin of 5.54 percentage points.

“I have heard nothing but positive feedback. I think most people in Fayetteville realize that this city is a tolerant one and we want to keep it that way,” said Jacob Hook, a student from the University of Arkansas who previously attended John Brown University and is a current resident of Fayetteville.

Citizens of Fayetteville just approved the legislation, although the Civil Rights Commission presented this topic several times to the City Council in the past year.

In December 2014, a similar piece of legislature, Ordinance 119, was repealed with a 52 percent of votes, and a voter turnout of 14,000.

Still, 29 percent of Fayetteville’s total registered voters voted on this topic.

“If we don’t go to the voting booth, we can’t maintain a progressive and healthy democracy,” Hook said.

On June 16, 2015, the City Council passed ordinance 5781 titled, “An ordinance to ensure uniform nondiscrimination protections within the city of Fayetteville for groups already protected to varying degrees throughout state law.”

The ordinance states, “This shall not mean any religious facility or other religious institution including their owned and operated schools and daycare facilities.”

After being passed, the new ordinance became quite controversial. In response, the referendum was created to give the people of Fayetteville the final say.

“This ordinance is not about denying religious rights. It’s about protecting human decency,” Hook said.

Senior accounting and international business major Oddmar á Lakjuni is a JBU student from the Faroe Islands. He compared the passing of this ordinance to a law that was passed by the parliament of his country in 2007.

Unlike in Fayetteville, “People didn’t get to vote, but the Parliament decided,” Lakjuni said.

“Many people saw it as a sliding slope,” Lakjuni said.

This past week, the citizens of Fayetteville had the final say and approved that “gender identity and sexual orientation should also be protected by the City of Fayetteville,” as the ballot stated.

The ordinance will go into effect Nov. 7, and a Civil Rights Commission will be instituted to decide on discrimination complaints.

This commission will be composed of “two representatives of the business community, two owners or managers of rental property, one representative with experience in Human Resources or employment law, and two citizens at large,” one of whom must identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

This new Civil Rights Commission will meet every year once new members are appointed. All of the meetings will be open for the general public to attend, the first of which will be 60 days after it goes into effect.