FAYETTEVILLE – Voters approved a repeal of a controversial gender ordinance Dec. 9 that would have been the first of its kind in the Natural State.
Unofficial results reported were 7,523 voting for repeal, with 7,040 voting against repeal, according to published reports.
Adopted by Fayetteville councilmen Aug. 20 following a marathon meeting, the ordinance would have extended housing, employment and public accommodation protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, which aren't covered in state and federal laws.
Within a month following approval of the ordinance, its foes collected enough signatures to place its repeal on the ballot in a special election.
Southern Baptist and other religious leaders in northwest Arkansas expressed concern that the ordinance was a significant threat to religious liberty in the city.
The passage of the ordinance by the Fayetteville City Council appeared to mark the first win in a new Southern campaign to extend LGBT rights.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the country’s largest political organization that promotes LGBT rights, announced in April such an effort with an $8.5 million budget over three years in Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi. On Nov. 10, HRC unveiled its “All God’s Children” religious outreach to persuade Mississippians that homosexuality is compatible with Christianity.
In a Nov. 10 memo, Steve Clark, president of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, said the city had failed to address the organization’s numerous questions about enforcement of the ordinance, including some regarding religious freedom.
Lead Southern Baptist Convention ethicist Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), described the ordinance as “one of the most broadly written and troubling nondiscrimination bills I’ve ever seen, stipulating religious exemptions only for the most narrow of circumstances, which will endanger untold numbers of men and women seeking to live out their gospel faith.”
The ordinance’s weakness on religious liberty is especially objectionable to Southern Baptists, Moore said, adding, “Religious freedom doesn’t arrive by majority vote and can’t be negotiated away by majority vote.”