An ordinance banning discrimination against LGBT people in Anchorage, Alaska, could be passed on an upcoming municipal ballot in April.
There have been attempts to pass such an ordinance several times since Anchorage was granted city status in 1977, but the State’s vocal conservative Christian community always ensured the bill was vetoed or crushed at the final hurdle.
Surprisingly, the ordinance – which has been garnering almost as much attention in Alaska as the US presidential race — has won unprecedented support from faith leaders, including the Episcopal bishop and 50 other churches and religious groups. However, twice as many churches have mobilised in an attempt to defeat the measure.
Thousands of dollars have been donated toward the battle from both sides, plus donations from outside Alaska. These funds have largely gone towards television and radio adverts, making Alaska the current front line in the ongoing national debate over LGBT rights.
If passed, the initiative would build upon the city’s existing ordinance which prohibits discrimination in housing and employment on the grounds of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, marital status, age or disability. Protections for LGBT persons would be added to that ordinance.
Trevor Storrs, spokesman for the pro-initiative One Anchorage campaign, said: “We have been working towards the same legal protections for 35 years. We’ve had ups and we’ve had downs, and today, we feel we’re very much on the upswing.”
Critics however, have mobilised church congregations and also gathered support from religious conservative groups outside Alaska to convince Anchorage residents that the ordinance could harm business owners and jeopardise religious freedom.
Jim Minnery of the Alaska Family Council, who are heading the “‘No on 5’ Protect Anchorage” campaign said: “No, we don’t believe that there is widespread discrimination that’s preventing gays and lesbians from having jobs and getting loans and housing. There’s ample evidence from those in the [LGBT] community who say Anchorage is a very tolerant place.”
Former State Governor Sarah Palin is a long-standing opponent of LGBT rights, not least gay marriage, stating during her time in office that “I have voted along with the vast majority of Alaskans who had the opportunity to vote to amend our Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman. I wish on a federal level that’s where we would go. I don’t support gay marriage.”