Anchorage lawmakers have passed a law that makes it illegal to discriminate people on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. This is the first law of its kind in Alaska, and marks a turning point in the overall stance of the state towards LGBT rights.
Is it a Moral or Economic Issue?
The assembly voted 9-2 late on Tuesday, September 29, adding sexual orientation and gender identity to its municipal law to ensure equal opportunity in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city.
“Some people view these as moral issues,” said Assembly Member Patrick Flynn, who co-authored the ordinance. “I tend to view them as an economic issue.” He added, “If you want to be part of our community and you add value, we welcome you.”
The new ordinance is similar to a measure that was passed back in 2009, which was vetoed by then Mayor Dan Sullivan. A similar measure that would have guaranteed similar protections to municipal employees was backed back in 1993 but was later repealed.
Anchorage already bars discrimination over race, sex, color, and religion according to the statute, and the new law concerning sexual orientation and gender identity will take effect once signed by Assembly Chair Dick Traini.
The New Ordinance
The new law will add protections for gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual people in housing, employment, and other areas. This, however, includes religious exceptions.
Alaskans Together for Equality, the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska and other groups said, “We have joined the vanguard of over 200 cities that say you should not be fired or lose your home simply based on who you are or whom you love.”
Mayor Ethan Berkowitz does have the power to veto the ordinance, but he has not indicated any action to do so. Opponents, such as Assembly Members Bill Star and Amy Demboski, have said they will oppose the measure, while others are pursuing a referendum to repeal the law. Starr, donning a red shirt in opposition, said regarding his stance, “The reason I’m doing this quite frankly because I feel that I identify closer to these folks in red than I do with you folks right now.”
He added, “Two and a half, three weeks, we’re taking on a major topic that’s been fleshed out since 1993 in this community and you want to do it in three weeks with no vote of the people.”
Local media reports that there were over 17 amendments laid out before council members in a meeting which lasted well into the night. Additionally, the approved changes included an additional amendment by Flynn, which specifies that the new ordinance cannot violate the rights outlined in the constitution.