Voters in Eureka Springs, Arkansas voted overwhelmingly to uphold the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance on Tuesday. Ordinance 2223, which bans discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations against people based on their race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or socioeconomic background, won handily 579 to 231 votes.
The ordinance was passed by the Eureka Springs City Council in February, but voters were given the opportunity to overturn it on Tuesday. Yet, despite a concerted effort from Christian fundamentalists to defeat the measure, Eureka Springs residents turned out in droves to support the law. Turnout on Tuesday night was higher than turnout for the November 2014 election. The law was upheld by a huge 71-29 percent margin.
Kendra R. Johnson, the Arkansas State Director for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), issued a statement, applauding the results:
Arkansas cities are leading the way and we hope that Governor Asa Hutchinson is taking notice. Where leadership has failed Arkansans on the state level, local municipalities like Eureka Springs have taken the initiative to ensure that all their residents are rightfully protected from all forms of discrimination. Welcoming all people in our communities makes the Natural State stronger and we praise the local activists who worked tirelessly to make this victory possible. Right now, keeping up the momentum in other cities is imperative, so that every Arkansans can feel safe in their community.
The victory in a Bible Belt town of just over 2,000 people is symbolically significant, especially since the ordinance was upheld so decisively. Eureka Springs is home to the 66-foot-tall Christ of the Ozarks statue. However, the eclectic community is hardly a typical Bible Belt town as it has in recent years, become something of a Bohemian mecca that is unlike any other Ozark town. Nevertheless, the town is still home to many traditionalists as well. Consequently, Tuesday’s election pitted the values of the traditionalists against the progressives, and the progressives won big.
While many Republican-controlled state legislatures and GOP Governors are working hard to pander to intolerant religious fundamentalists by fighting to preserve discrimination, municipalities can fight that trend by passing non-discrimination laws at the local level. The Eureka Springs City Council did just that in February, and on Tuesday the voters in their town gave them a resounding round of applause, voting overwhelmingly to keep that law in place. It was a convincing victory for equality in a Bible Belt community. There will be many more to come.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.