Thursday, October 01, 2015

Anchorage, Alaska Passes LGBT Anti-Discrimination Law Over Religious Objections

Late Tuesday night, the Anchorage, Alaska Assembly by a vote of  9-2 enacted amendments to the city's equal rights ordinance barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment, public accommodations and education. (Full text of Ordinance as proposed.) Alaska Dispatch News reporting on the Assembly's actions says that the ordinance will take effect when signed by Assembly Chair Dick Traini, expected on Friday. Mayor Ethan Berkowitz does not plan to veto the ordinance. A package of 17 proposed amendments (full text) were largely rejected. They focused on expanding religious exemptions and rules for gender-segregated restrooms.  According to the Dispatch News:
In the end, only two were approved: a Flynn amendment stating that nothing in the law would trump state and federal First Amendment rights, and an Evans amendment adding a reference to a Supreme Court case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School vs. EOCC, to define a “ministerial exemption.”
The Assembly narrowly rejected Assembly Chair Dick Traini's proposals to extend the city’s existing religious preference law to “nonprofit affiliates,” such as Providence Alaska Medical Center, and to add language that would prevent employers from firing employees for expressing religious views.
Opponents of the law, who argue that it infringes religious liberty, plan to seek a referendum to repeal it. The Assembly rejected a proposal to require a public advisory vote on the measure.  Alaska Public Media reported:
Opposition to the bill came primarily from two socially conservative Assembly Members from the Eagle River Chugiak area, Amy Demboski and Bill Starr, both of whom say it infringes on residents’ religious and free speech rights. Much of the audience was wearing red–a sign of opposition to the measure, called for by a coalition of conservative faith groups. After hours of impassioned testimony that often addressed the crowd instead of fellow Assembly Members, Starr left his seat behind the dais to speak from the floor as a citizen rather than official.
“I buy into that Bible, that book, that says homosexuality and that type of deviant behavior is wrong.”
He then slipped on a red vest before receiving the night’s only standing ovation.
“And I’ll tell you what red is–somebody said ‘well what what are you wearing red for?’ It’s the blood of Jesus Christ folks, that’s what it represents.”