State was founded on principle of equality

Alaska is a state that was founded on the principal of equal treatment for all. Throughout our history, we have championed the fight to eliminate discrimination and lead the charge for civil rights. From women's voting to ending racial segregation, our founding fathers and mothers broke the barriers of their time and tread new ground to protect all our state's residents.

Some of our proudest moments revolve around promoting equality for all Alaska residents. In their first official act ever to be passed, the Territorial Legislature gave women the right to vote in 1913 -- seven years prior to the passing of the 19th Amendment. We surpassed the federal government again in 1915 when our Territorial Legislature recognized Native people as citizens of Alaska nine years before Congress approved the Citizenship Act. And in 1945, long before Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a Tlingit woman named Elizabeth Peratrovich helped pass Alaska's first antidiscrimination bill. Each of these heroic efforts has improved our state, and it is our job to continue the vision of our predecessors as we lead a new generation of Alaskans into the future.

There is more to be done to make this a more perfect state. We both served in local government in the early years after unification of the city and borough of Anchorage. One of the first laws adopted by the new municipality in 1976 was an Equal Rights Ordinance. The policy was simply and eloquently stated. "The public policy of the municipality is declared to be equal opportunity for all persons." The law prohibited discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, and educational institutions based upon "race, color, sex, religion, national origin, marital status, age, or physical or mental disability."

Sadly, notwithstanding a long battle, the final law did not include protection for sexual orientation. Now we have the chance -- the opportunity -- to make it right. There are some who say that this inclusion will infringe on their "rights" to believe and act upon their conscience. Yet, they make no call to eliminate the existing classes of protected persons as an infringement of their rights. Nor do they call for the elimination of the mandate to give equal opportunity to "all" citizens. They falsely claim the fear of excessive punishment and jail time for the inclusion of prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation when there is no example of that in the 35-year history of the equal rights ordinance that prohibits discrimination against all of the other classes.

Today we find ourselves at odds with what was once this state's core value. Here in Anchorage, gay and transgender residents are being fired and kicked out of their homes, and even in some cases refused service just because of who they are. Our community is better than that. This is far from the vision our forebears strove for, and it's time to include everyone in our community -- in ONE ANCHORAGE -- so we can get back to the greatest Alaskan value: Equality for all.

Proposition 5, the One Anchorage Initiative, will guide us in the right direction and continue the mission so many of this state's great leaders carried before us. By providing our gay friends and neighbors with the same legal protections the rest of us already have, we can ensure no Anchorage residents face disadvantages for reasons beyond their control. While the numbers may not be astronomical, we believe there is no amount of discrimination that is acceptable in our community -- because anything else is simply unAlaskan. These are real people with real families, working hard to put food on the table and make ends meet.

On Tuesday, vote yes on Proposition 5 to further equality in this great state. After all, it's the Alaskan thing to do.

Tony Knowles served eight years as Alaska's governor and is a former mayor of Anchorage. Arliss Sturgulewski is a former Anchorage assemblywoman and Republican state senator from Anchorage.