On Thursday, November 12, the conservative nonprofit Alaska Family Council held their annual fundraising dinner at the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Lucy Cuddy Hall, entitled “For Such a Time As This.” The event focused on religious liberty and public action in Alaska.
Through the course of the evening, several prominent members of the Alaska conservative establishment spoke, including Alaska Family Council President Jim Minnery, Anchorage radio host Bernadette Wilson, State Senator Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), national conservative talk show host Michael Medved, and a Washington florist who was recently sued by the State of Washington for refusing to prepare floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding.
That florist and featured speaker was Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flower in Richland, Washington, who refused service to a longtime customer and friend, Robert Ingersoll, when he chose to marry partner Curt Creed.
The couple chose to air their complaints on Facebook, eventually catching the attention of the Washington Attorney General’s office. The state promptly sued Stutzman for allegedly violating the state consumer protection law, which unambiguously states that Washington citizens have the “right to engage in credit transactions without discrimination.”
The State of Washington alleged that Stutzman violated the State’s Freedom From Discrimination Law, and had an obligation to sell flowers to a same-sex couple, the same as they would to an opposite-sex couple. Benton County Superior Court Judge Alexander Ekstrom ruled that Stutzman was “enjoined and restrained from violating RCW 19.86, the Consumer Protection Act, by discriminating against any person because of their sexual orientation.”
Prior to the ruling by Judge Ekstrom, the state Attorney General’s office sought compromise with the florist by sending a letter to Stutzman requesting that she comply with state law, “which prohibits businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.” Her attorneys responded that she would challenge any state action to enforce the law in her case.
At the end of an interview between Stutzman and Kim Minnery (wife of the Alaska Family Council President), Stutzman offered strong parting words.
“You know, they can get rid of me,” she said softly. “They can get rid of our business, they could get rid of our retirement and our life savings. But they cannot change the fact that God created man and woman to be husband and wife.”
Several topics were discussed at this year’s dinner, including anti-discrimination protections for LGBT residents, abortion, and the rights of businesses to refuse service to LGBT customers. Addressing the crowded hall on the topic of holding deeply held religious beliefs and concurrently running a business, Minnery recalled a member of the Alaska Family Council board of directors who testified in the contentious public hearings on Anchorage Ordinance 96, which was passed earlier this year.
The former board member, Robert Flint, testified that if the law passed he would be unable to continue his practice, which included providing legal services to couples seeking to adopt a child, as he could not in good conscience assist with providing a child to an LGBT couple. Minnery made the point that while this particular attorney would not provide his services to LGBT couples, “probably 90 percent or more that would provide that adoption service to a same-sex couple […] So it’s never been about access to service.”
Quoting Al Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, the AFC head described how Christians were at “war” with “a new moral and legal order.” “Religious liberty is threatened by a new moral regime that exalts erotic liberty and personal autonomy and openly argues that religious liberties must give way to the new morality,” Minnery said.
He identified the “enemies” in that war by name: Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which he called bullies.
“They have about $1 million in combined annual revenue between the two of them. Our annual revenue is about $225,000,” Minnery said, but quickly pivoted to highlight AFC’s successes.
In 2009, AFC worked to defeat an antidiscrimination bill before the Anchorage Assembly. They were unable to sway Assembly members, but ultimately succeeded through then-Mayor Dan Sullivan’s veto pen. The following year, AFC supported a parental notification that voters passed 56-44. In 2012, Minnery served as chair of the “Protect Your Rights” group opposing an antidiscrimination ballot initiative, which was defeated soundly. And more recently, AFC lobbied the legislature to support and pass legislation defining what constitutes a “medically necessary” abortion eligible for Medicaid reimbursements.
However, both abortion cases were invalidated by the courts, and the Anchorage Assembly, under Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, passed an antidiscrimination law earlier this year, 9-2. Both Eagle River Assembly members who dissented, Amy Demboski and Bill Starr, were present and offered a round of applause. Minnery said that he was interested in a public vote to repeal that law and a return, by the legislature, to the topic of abortion.
“So, there’s hope. In terms of, I think a lot of people would like to just throw the towel in and say it’s over,” Minnery said.
The reality is that we’re working right now with members of the Walker Administration. And I would ask in particular that you would pray for that effort. I can’t say it’s been going as smoothly as I would like, but we’re working with the Walker Administration and the Attorney General to investigate and to defund Planned Parenthood in the State of Alaska, as about 13 other states have done, in terms of investigations.
When asked about this via email, the Governor’s Press Secretary, Katie Marquette, responded:
Governor Walker makes a concerted effort to meet with many Alaskans, and hear about
issues and concerns that are important to them. The Governor and Attorney General
did meet with Mr. Minnery to hear his concerns about Planned Parenthood, however no
significant action has been taken by the administration on this matter. Attorney
General Richards told Mr. Minnery he would review the information presented to him
in a non-political way, as is done with any concerns brought to the Department of
That statement is in line with previous comments by the governor during his 2014 campaign that he would seek to avoid social issues and controversies during his administration, and far less indicative of Minnery’s implication that immediate investigations and defunding of Planned Parenthood were imminent.
While a national controversy erupted over the summer regarding defunding Planned Parenthood over several videos that emerged, Alaska has remained largely untouched by the controversy, though some lawmakers are mounting an effort to change that. Minnery may have oversold the Walker Administration’s involvement, but it is clear that AFC has sway with members of the legislature. State representatives Shelley Hughes (R-Palmer) and Bob Lynn (R-Anchorage) were in attendance, along with Dunleavy.
“We’ve got a number of things that are in the docket this year in Juneau that we’re going to need your help. Parental rights. Getting Planned Parenthood out of the schools,” Dunleavy told the gathering. “I know it’s going to be a tough fight, but I know that when we have a group such as we’re honoring tonight standing next to us, it makes us all believe that it’s possible to put into play the things we know that we need to have.”
Dunleavy already has legislation pending in the legislature in Senate Bill 89. “An Act relating to a parent’s right to direct the education of a child,” SB89 creates a system where parents have to opt their child in to any curricula dealing with sexuality, and additionally bars school districts from contracting with an abortion service provider — read: Planned Parenthood — to provide course instruction and materials pertaining to sexual education and sexually transmitted disease.
SB89 stalled in the Senate Rules Committee when the 29th Legislature gaveled out in the spring. However, Dunleavy rolled it into another bill, HB44, better known as the Alaska Safe Children’s Act or Erin’s Law. Though it was eventually stripped from that legislation, it will resurface next year when session reconvenes. As a symbolic gesture of support for the measure, state senators Bill Stoltze (R-Chugiak), Cathy Giessel (R-Anchorage), John Coghill (R-North Pole), Kelly, MacKinnon, and Senate President Kevin Meyer (R-Anchorage) added their names as cosponsors on the final day of the summer’s special session — hinting that it may be a legislative priority next year.
That could be problematic to a Walker Administration that seems to wish to stay well clear of the discussion.