Anchorage considers discrimination ordinance

Assembly to contemplate banning bias against gays, but city religious leader vows to fight it

Posted: Thursday, May 14, 2009

ANCHORAGE - The Anchorage Assembly will consider an ordinance banning discrimination against gays in hiring, housing and education, but a city religious leader vows to fight it.

The Rev. Jerry Prevo of the Anchorage Baptist Temple said the proposal is an example of one part of the community trying to force its values on everyone.

Assemblyman Patrick Flynn supports the ordinance and said it's time for Anchorage to stand up for all its residents.

"People are simply people," he said. "It is wrong to discriminate against them just because the person they happen to love and make a family with is the same gender."

Acting Mayor Matt Claman also supports the measure.

"In an ideal world, the code would just say, 'Thou shall not discriminate for any reason,"' Claman said.

The issue of banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation first surfaced in the mid-1970s. The Anchorage Assembly passed a measure but it was vetoed by former Mayor George Sullivan.

An anti-discrimination code provision was enacted in the early 1990s but removed from the code by another assembly vote in 1993.

State law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination by sexual preference. However, the Alaska Supreme Court in 2005 ruled that state employment benefits must be extended to partners of gay state employees.

The proposed ordinance would add to Anchorage's existing anti-discrimination code. It bans discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, marital status, age, or physical or mental disability.

"I'd like to think that we've matured enough as a community that this won't be a big deal," Flynn. "But I could be wrong."

Prevo also fought the first sexual orientation protections in the 1970s. He said the sponsors of the new ordinance are trying to pry open the door to broader gay rights. Most Alaskans do not want that, he said.

Prevo plans a public campaign to fight the proposed change.

The measure would also ban discrimination against military veterans. Prevo said veterans were included to distract from the sexual orientation issue. He warned that making the proposed law could open employers and landlords to lawsuits.

"If I were a veteran, I'd be upset that they are linking the two together," Prevo said.

Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Alaska, helped write the proposal. He said it contains a provision that allows organizations such as the Baptist Temple to legally refuse to hire people because their sexual preference conflicts with religious beliefs.

"It's unfortunate when organizations want to muddy the water and misrepresent what an actual ordinance does or says," Mittman said. "People should go to the ordinance themselves and read it."

A public hearing on the measure is set for June 9.

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