Gov. Asa Hutchinson's proposal on non-discrimination: Empty words | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Gov. Asa Hutchinson's proposal on non-discrimination: Empty words

Posted By on Wed, Apr 8, 2015 at 6:49 AM

'FULL COMPLIANCE': Gov. Asa Hutchinson's proposed executive order contains empty words about non-discrimination. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • 'FULL COMPLIANCE': Gov. Asa Hutchinson's proposed executive order contains empty words about non-discrimination.

Benji Hardy reported e
arlier this week that Gov. Asa Hutchinson had no plans at this time to issue an executive order on non-discrimination in state employment, a possibility he'd mentioned during the controversy that arose over legislative proposals to establish a religious pretext in Arkansas for discrimination against gay people

Given the shape of the order he apparently had in mind, LGBT people are better off with nothing

In an article about Senate President Jonathan Dismang's speech to the Political Animals Club about the compromise over so-called religious freedom legislation, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Capitol reporter Michael Wickline reported on a draft executive order circulated at the Capitol recently. It was unsigned, but according to Wickline it said it's:

"the policy of the state of Arkansas to implement employment practices that will prevent discrimination and harassment and that will be in full compliance with federal and Arkansas civil rights laws."

The proposed executive order also says state agencies are directed to assess, evaluate and report any incidents of discrimination so that the executive and legislative branches of the state "will have needed information to determine whether any further changes in our laws need to be made in order to assure that Arkansas is a state which recognizes the diversity of the work place and the genuinely-held religious convictions of Arkansans."

Nice words, but empty and too likely to be spun by a credulous press and public as meaningful. Neither  federal nor state civil rights law provides any meaningful employment protection against discrimination on ground of sexual orientation or gender identity. You may discriminate against LGBTQ people in employment (and housing and public accommodation in Arkansas) without fear of government retribution.

Asa Hutchinson's order is meaningless boilerplate to people who'd like equal treatment under the law in employment, housing and public accommodation. As it stands in Arkansas, you may discriminate and be in "full compliance" with the law.

Hutchinson's proclamation also would buttress those who want to discriminate with his avowed protection for those with "genuinely-held religious convictions." This is only a repetition of the ill-intended new law that was introduced to allow people to cite "genuine convictions" to discriminate. It was aimed at gay people, but it could be invoked for any number of reasons against many different identifiable groups, including but not limited to gay people. That's how Bob Ballinger wants it. That's how Bart Hester wants it. That's apparently how Asa Hutchinson wants it. Don't forget Hutchinson cut a deal with Sen. David Burnett to free a much harsher "religious freedom" bill from committee. Hutchinson worked hard to pass it and said repeatedly that he'd sign it. He backed off only in the face of a national corporate outcry. The change revealed nothing about where his instincts truly lie — apparently in favor of continuing to keep discrimination against gay people legal in Arkansas.

The fix is simple: A flat statement that the state of Arkansas will not discriminate in employment on ground of sexual orientation or gender identity. Add four words to the state civil rights law. The only explanation for refusal to do otherwise is bias.

One other thing about the coverage of Dismang's speech. The AP version quoted Dismang:

"My understanding was the (initial) bill mirrored the federal law, when in fact it didn't," he said. "When you peel it away and look at the issue, it was the uncertainty it created whether for the LGBT community or for, in a way in my opinion, Christians. What was going to be the ultimate outcome from this uncertainty?"

I asked if Dismang was saying, as the quote seemed to imply, that "LGBT community "and "Christians" were mutually exclusive terms. He said no. It was, he said "a poorly worded statement on my part."

That's a gracious statement, particularly in the current context.

PS — The Democrat-Gazette article quoted a Hutchinson spokesman as declining to confirm whether the document it referenced came from the governor's office. It is not to be confused with a proposed executive order drafted by Stonewall Democrats that explicitly referenced protection for sexual orientation and gender identity. It was a better idea. 

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