On Tuesday, a special advisory election will be held on whether the Alaska Constitution should be changed to prohibit any city or borough or any state agency, including the University of Alaska, from providing employment benefits to same-sex partners of public employees and retirees. In response to this challenge, the Juneau Assembly on March 5 unanimously passed a resolution opposing the proposition because it violates our human rights policies and takes away city autonomy. I ask you to vote "no" on this proposition and to please take a few minutes to read this column and consider the critical issues at stake.
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America was founded by those fleeing religious persecution in Europe. The Pilgrims and early settlers came to America to escape governments that demanded everyone accept the state religion and no other. In Europe, citizens who opposed the state brand of Christianity could be thrown in jail and even executed. Our European forbears came to America for religious freedom and to escape the religious tyranny of government. That is our heritage.
Those refugees from Europe deeply believed in God. But they knew state-imposed religion leads to religious persecution, and so they created a Constitution guaranteeing equal rights for everyone, regardless of religious beliefs or practices. The First Amendment says government may not favor any one particular religious belief. This was not to suppress religion, but to allow it to flourish. It took us several hundred years to abolish legal discrimination against non-whites, and women, and although discrimination still exists, most of us believe in equality and freedom for everyone. The April 3 proposition asks us to give up that belief. The Alaskan Constitution also affirms that all persons are equal and entitled to equal rights, opportunities and protection under the law. It is that basic principle that proponents of the April 3 advisory vote want to change.
There are two points that advocates of this vote stress. First, they say the people should decide the issue. Second, they say the courts should not decide. Please think about what they are saying. The founders feared the power of government to oppress the individual. Our Constitution was set up to establish checks and balances on power. We protected individual rights to keep the majority from oppressing the minority. We set up the judicial branch to check the powers of the legislative and executive branches. It is the job of the judiciary to examine our laws to see if they conform to our Constitution. But those in favor of this proposition argue we should abolish the checks and balances of the judiciary and give the Legislature unrestricted power.
There is one point in which I agree with the sponsors of this vote. This is not just about health care benefits for same-sex partners of government employees. This is about the bedrock foundation of American and Alaskan values. Though our nation is primarily Christian, we are not a theocracy. We reject the idea of a religious based government. We believe everyone should be able to worship in their own way and to practice their own beliefs. We know that the only way we can live and work together is to treat each other equally under a common law. Proponents of this vote want to roll back the bedrock American values of freedom and equality and mandate discrimination against a minority.
Many of you remember reading George Orwell's Animal Farm, a book that cautioned against the extremism that was happening in Russia. In the story the animal's seventh commandment was "All animals are created equal." Then, suddenly one day, the commandment was amended: "All animals are created equal - but some are more equal than others."
That is the issue that is at stake here.
To preserve our American and Alaskan Constitutional values of freedom and equality, I urge you to vote "no" on the April 3 advisory vote.
Jonathan Anderson is associate professor of Public Administration at the University of Alaska Southeast and a member of the city of Juneau Assembly.
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