The Conway City Council voted 6-2 last Tuesday to prohibit LGBTQ discrimination wording to the city’s equal-opportunity statement that applies to the hiring policies for city employees.
The ordinance, a controversial topic, was proposed and enacted quickly with support from Conway Mayor Tab Townsell and harshly opposed at the meeting by Sen. Jason Rapert (R) and others. Rapert’s opposition was no surprise, but others were concerned the ordinance happened too fast to include appropriate public discourse surrounding the issue. This led to Ward 3, position 1 councilman Mark Ledbetter and Ward 3, position 2 councilwoman Mary Smith voting against the amendment.
The amendment was undoubtedly a quick response to, and confirmed symbolic statement against, Senate Bill 202 that passed into law Feb. 23, which bars cities and counties from passing their own anti-discrimination laws that conflict with existing state laws. However, letting the issue stagnate while Arkansas moves in a different direction could have potentially hindered Conway’s civil rights progress. The council was right to be proactive and to reflect a firm stance on the issue.
The city already hires people following this anti-discrimination policy, but these clauses were not clearly stated in writing. With SB202 becoming law, Conway had no choice but to move quickly to make its hiring policies clear.
While it isn’t unusual for public officials to be concerned with losing support, the fact remains that the city already practices these policies. Making them concrete only shows strength in our municipal government and that it is dedicated to progress despite opposition focused predominantly on religious beliefs.
The Arkansas Times reported that, throughout the meeting, Rapert was tweeting Bible verses and religious backings for his staunch opposition to the amendment. This is an example of the most common argument against including LGBTQ clauses in anti-discrimination hiring policies, which is lawful for private businesses. Public entities, however, should not allow religious opposition to sway policies. Personal beliefs cannot be allowed to influence government or exclude any societal member from a publicly funded occupation. It only shows favoritism toward a certain group.
Now, many would argue this impedes individualistic religious rights. That would be true if laws were in place to force individuals to comply with city hiring policies in an unfair manner. This amendment does nothing of the sort. It only states that Conway will not discriminate against any individual applying for a city job, regardless of his sexual preference. The city is basically saying that social issues relating one’s personal life have no basis in its professional setting, which is what a government should strive for. Personal beliefs, whatever they may be, should be left outside the workplace.
Conway is making the right step toward social equality and progress by allowing all members to feel comfortable here.
We are reassuring our citizens that everyone has the opportunity to make equal employment choices in the government’s eyes. It speaks volumes for our progress as a city that the council approaches such issues logically and with unwavering equality in mind.
Making equality issues a matter of personal choice instead of government involvement will solidify Conway as one of the more progressive cities in Arkansas.