A new effort to roll back Anchorage’s recently passed ordinance codifying equal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender residents appears imminent, after a letter from Alaska Family Council/Action president Jim Minnery was sent out to supporters last week.
The Anchorage Assembly finally passed Ordinance 96 last year. The measure protects LGBT Alaskans against discriminatory practices in housing and employment. Such protections featured prominently in the mayoral contest between now-Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and his run-off opponent, Assembly member Amy Demboski. Berkowitz pledged to pass the law — which has been defeated legislatively twice since 1976 and at the ballot box in 2012. Demboski opposed the measure and was one of two votes (alongside Eagle River’s other Assembly member, Bill Starr) dissenting.
When the Supreme Court extended marriage equality in the summer of 2015, LGBT citizens were shouldered with a double standard. They now had the right to marry, but no legal protections from discrimination, meaning they could be married on a Sunday and fired or evicted the next day. Berkowitz made good on his campaign promise and signed AO96 into law to address that prevailing vulnerability.
Two months later, former conservative talk show host Bernadette Wilson filed a petition seeking to repeal the measure. The municipal clerk rejected that petition, finding problems with the petition’s language. It was entitled, as submitted, “Gender Identity + Sexual Orientation Amendments” and sought to ask voters: “Shall AO No. 2015-96 (S-1) (as amended), an ordinance adding sexual orientation and gender identity to Title 5 of the Anchorage Municipal Code, remain law?”
A legal memo penned by Assistant Municipal Attorney Dean Gates, and approved by Deputy Municipal Attorney Deitra Ennis and Municipal Attorney William Falsey, found the brief question would not sufficiently provide voters with enough basic information about the effects of the law and what effects its repeal would have. They recommended specific changes that would make it permissible to comply with state and local laws guiding referendums, but Wilson has not to date done so.
In last week’s letter to Alaska Family Council supporters, Minnery wrote,
Within a few weeks, Alaska Family Action will be submitting to the Municipal Attorney significant amendments to Ordinance 96 as a citywide initiative. While not fully repealing the misguided law, our intent is to bring back balance and create equal protections for people of faith who want to live and work in the public marketplace without fear of governmental intrusion and legal intimidation. It’s time for the pendulum to swing back our way.
He said that his organization would be enlisting the help of David Sears, president and chief counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). ADF is an American conservative Christian nonprofit organization that litigates cases involving religious freedom, access to abortion, marriage equality, and antidiscrimination laws. Up until recently, its legal fellowship program described its mission to “recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries.”
In expectation of such a campaign coming to fruition, a counter effort to fight the repeal has also formed. Fair Anchorage filed its registration with the Alaska Public Offices Commission earlier this month and bills itself as a “grassroots effort dedicated to preserving the community’s LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance.”
It remains unclear what amendments to AO96 Alaska Family Council/Action will recommend in the coming days and weeks, and whether the municipal clerk will approve a new petition for referendum. A certifiable referendum will have to clearly state how people would be impacted, directly and indirectly. Should the petitioners comply with those requirements, the referendum would be certified and the signature gathering phase could begin.
If approved by the clerk’s office, it would then require 5,754 signatures to arrive on a ballot.