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Anchorage

Group seeks vote on changing Anchorage gender-rights law

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: January 5, 2017
  • Published January 4, 2017

A group of Anchorage residents has filed an initiative to ask voters to erase parts of a year-and-a-half-old ordinance barring discrimination over sexual orientation or gender identity, and allow some businesses to refuse service for same-sex ceremonies.  

The "Protect Our Privacy" initiative was filed Tuesday, according to the city clerk's office. The five-page petition includes a requirement for city-owned or operated bathrooms or changing rooms to be segregated according to a person's sex at birth.

Another provision allows a person, such as a baker, to refuse service for a same-sex wedding if it violates a "sincerely held belief."

Kim Minnery, the initiative's primary sponsor, said Wednesday the measure had been in the works for several months. She said the main goal is protecting privacy and religious liberty from government intrusion.

"We want it to be fair," Minnery said. "I think any law must really respect the freedoms of any Anchorage citizen."  

The initiative marks a reaction to a September 2015 ordinance approved by the Anchorage Assembly.

The law added protections to Anchorage equal rights law for gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people in housing, employment, public accommodations, but included exemptions for religious groups and those with ministerial duties.

It also allowed business operators to provide locker rooms segregated by gender, as long as people can use the facilities consistent with their gender identity.

But soon after the law passed, opponents pledged an effort to repeal it. A proposed referendum shortly after the measure passed stalled in the city attorney's office amid a disagreement over phrasing.

Now the law's opponents are taking the initiative route to amend city law, and are not going to the Assembly to repeal the ordinance.

The document filed Tuesday includes the following new provisions:

* Require certain restrooms or changing facilities in city buildings only be used by people of the same sex, and if there are questions about their sex, described in the proposal as an "immutable biological condition," a birth certificate would be a ruling document.

* Allow private employers, public accommodations and "other persons" to choose to adopt the sex-specific standards for restrooms, access and "dress and grooming policies."

"No public accommodation may be forced to promote a message or expressive event with which the owner or operator disagrees," one provision reads.

* Ensure employers, public accommodations and "other persons" aren't forced to participate in marriage ceremonies or celebrations that violate a "sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction."

Provide nondiscrimination law exemptions for religious organizations when it comes to employment decisions and adoption services.

The initiative defines sex as "an individual's immutable biological condition of being male or female as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at the time of birth."

Defenders of the 2015 law said they were still reviewing the initiative Wednesday and will wait to see what action the city attorney's office takes.

Minnery, the primary sponsor, said the point of the initiative is fairness. She said she and other supporters were dismayed when the Assembly voted against addressing religious conscience in the anti-discrimination ordinance.

"We're trying to get back some of those freedom of religious conscience protections that were stripped away," said Minnery, whose husband, Jim Minnery, is the longtime executive director of Alaska Family Action, a social- conservative advocacy group.

In 2012, Anchorage voters overwhelmingly rejected Proposition 5, which would have added protections to Anchorage equal rights law for people who identify as LGBT.

But then, about three years later, the Assembly voted 9-2 to pass an ordinance to put such protections in place.

The initial proposal from Assemblyman Bill Evans included a "religious conscience exemption" to allow a business to refuse service at a same-sex wedding. That provision was later removed, and the Assembly's majority rejected other attempts to replicate it, over concern such a provision was too broad.

The final version of the law included exemptions for religious groups and those with ministerial duties.

Minnery said work on the initiative has paused and restarted in response to the national political climate and similar legislation emerging in other states.

She couldn't cite a specific instance in Anchorage when she believed the law had caused problems, but cited examples in other states of businesses closing or being fined through similar laws.

"The (Anchorage) law was just put in place … so we want to prevent that from happening," Minnery said.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Billy Farrell, executive director of Identity Inc., an Anchorage-based LGBT advocacy group, said his organization and others who support the anti-discrimination law were still looking at the initiative.  

At first glance, he said, the measure appeared to allow broad discrimination against groups beyond people who are gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual.

"This is people of color, people of varying religious faiths," Farrell said. "There's a lot at stake affected by passing an initiative like this."

Farrell also described the initiative as "unnecessary." He pointed out city law already makes it illegal to harm or harass people or invade privacy.

"Anyone who does that, has the opportunity to do that, should be arrested and prosecuted," Farrell said. "Police use these laws pretty much every day to keep people safe, hold offenders accountable. This seems to target a specific part of our community, which is trans folks."

In early 2016, a campaign called Fair Anchorage formed to defend Anchorage's anti-discrimination law.

Farrell said the campaign has been dormant. He said those involved with the campaign are now watching to see what the city attorney's office will do.

The city attorney has 10 days to review the initiative and respond. If the measure gains legal approval, supporters will have until Feb. 1 to collect signatures.

Minnery said she's aware of a tight window of time to get more than 5,700 signatures.

"We'll take it day by day," she said.

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