Anchorage Assembly passes LGBT anti-discrimination laws

ANCHORAGE — Anchorage Assembly members have passed an ordinance making it illegal in the city to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports the assembly voted 9-2 late Tuesday night to pass the new local civil rights ordinance.

Mayor Ethan Berkowitz says he does not plan to veto the measure.

The vote comes after a lengthy debate on balancing exemptions for religious groups and protections for gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people in housing, employment and public accommodations.

Members of the public testified on the ordinance earlier this month, which prompted emotional responses from both sides of the issue. Assembly member Bill Starr, who voted with assemblywoman Amy Demboski against the measure, says the Assembly received about 500 emails over the weekend on the ordinance.

Some members of the audience wore red shirts to show their opposition. They say they are planning to seek a referendum to put the issue to voters.

The debate was coming to a close when Starr put on a red shirt himself and walked up to the podium to testify.

“The reason I’m doing this quite frankly because I feel that I identify closer to these folks in red then I do with you folks right now,” Starr said. “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.”

KTUU reports there were 17 amendments before council members in a meeting that lasted well into the night. KTVA reported the approved changes included an amendment by Councilman Patrick Flynn, specifying that the law cannot violate rights outlined in the Constitution.

A change by Councilman Bill Evans was also approved, stating the law would be in line the Supreme Court’s decision in a First Amendment rights case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School vs. EEOC. The unanimous opinion states that a ministerial exception “ensures that the authority to select and control who will minister to the faithful is the church’s alone.”

The final change proposed by Assembly Chair Dick Traini set a preamble to the law stating LGBT discrimination is an issue in the city. The amendment had been voted down, but passed before the full vote on the measure.

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