Arkansas Governor Resists Pressure To Veto LGBT Discrimination Bill

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LGBT advocates have walked a fine line between trumpeting an LGBT-rights agenda and appealing to the conservative politics of the Southern state. The bill was delivered to Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday afternoon.

Danny Johnston / AP Photo

Despite a Valentine’s Day rally outside his mansion, a torrent of emails, and pressure from LGBT organizations, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson appears unmoved by pleas to veto SB202, a bill passed Friday by the legislature to block Arkansas cities from enacting nondiscrimination laws that protect LGBT people.

“As the Governor stated Friday regarding SB202, he will allow the bill to go into law without his signature,” governor’s office spokesperson J.R. Davis told BuzzFeed News in an email Tuesday.

Asked about mounting pressure from citizens and LGBT groups, such as an activist website created by Scott Wooledge called Veto SB202 that sprouted up over the weekend, Davis said the governor’s “position has not changed.”

In opposing SB202, LGBT activists and lawmakers who spoke against the bill have walked a fine line between trumpeting an LGBT-rights agenda, which increasingly resonates with a national audience that mostly embraces marriage equality and other LGBT rights, and appealing to the moral and fiscally conservative politics of the South.

The reaction from national LGBT groups also has raised questions about the strategy groups like the Human Rights Campaign have in place for advancing LGBT rights in conservative states like Arkansas or nearby Alabama, where judges last week resisted federal court decisions that made same-sex couples’ marriages legal.

“The Governor has the power to tell the nation that Arkansas welcomes all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” Human rights Campaign Arkansas State Director Kendra R. Johnson said in press release Tuesday, then segueing into a more locally tailored argument that the bill compromises sovereignty. “Senate Bill 202 destroys local control and denies municipal governments the ability to pass civil rights protections for people in their cities.”

The bill sailed through the legislature this month, filed in the senate on Feb. 2 and passed one week later with an emergency clause to hasten implementation. The house made quick work too, passing the bill within four days — but omitting the emergency provision. Although the measure was returned to the senate, Senate information officer John Reed told BuzzFeed News in a phone call today that no further action was required before a clerk walked the measure to the governor’s desk.

“We are not even going to consider it again; we are going to send it to the governor, possibly today or tomorrow,” Reed said Tuesday. By late afternoon, state records showed the bill was formally transmitted to Hutchinson. If he doesn’t sign or veto the bill within five days (excluding Sunday), it automatically becomes law.

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