FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM)- A panel of legal experts participated in a question-and-answer session about Fayetteville's Civil Rights Ordinance Tuesday (Nov. 18) night.
Fayetteville voters will decide whether they want to repeal Ordinance 119 in a special election on Dec. 9.
The discussion, which lasted almost two hours, was held at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and was hosted by the Northwest Arkansas Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. The panel was made up of local lawyers and law professors.
Fayetteville lawyer Eva Madison, who also serves on the Washington County Quorum Court, was part of Tuesday's panel.
5NEWS spoke to Madison before the event to clarify parts of the ordinance:
Can members of the transgender community use a bathroom facility of their choice?
“Public accommodations are not supposed to discriminate in their services [and] goods, which would include a facility. So, if you go into a restaurant, the bathrooms that are there, and are available, would be part of the facilities that that restaurant offers. The ordinance adds protection for individuals based on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation. So, that would cover transgender people," Madison said.
Will churches have to perform same-sex marriages?
“A minister, who provides services, is essentially providing a public service. I`m not sure that the ordinance goes far enough in allowing a minister to decline a ceremony. It just allows a church to decline the use of their facilities. I do think there is some grey area there, where churches could be concerned that they might have to perform a wedding that would, perhaps, not be fitting with their religion," Madison said.
Can an employer be jailed for firing someone because of their race, gender, sexual orientation or religion?
“Under the ordinance, you could be pursued criminally. That is the only possible sanction that the city says they have, that they have the power to issue. So, any sanction that would come from the ordinance would be a criminal sanction. My understanding is that it would not be looking at jail time, but it would be a criminal citation," Madison said.
The ordinance, passed in August by the Fayetteville City Council after nine hours of public discussion, is set to be voted on by the public in December after a petition with 5,714 signatures on it was turned in to the Fayetteville City Clerk. The ordinance prohibits local businesses and entities from discriminating against customers and others based on gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity and other factors, but cannot be enforced until the outcome of the special election.
Early voting in the special election starts Dec. 2.