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Assembly members reach agreement to merge competing gay rights proposals

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published September 10, 2015

Anchorage Assembly members say they've reached a consensus on local legislation to ban discrimination over sexual orientation and gender identity.

Bill Evans, who represents South Anchorage and generally votes with the Assembly's conservative bloc, and Patrick Flynn, a downtown Assemblyman who generally votes with the liberal bloc, had introduced competing ordinances that would make it illegal in Anchorage to discriminate against any person based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, public accommodations and housing. The main difference between the two ordinances was the breadth of religious-based exemptions.

With a public hearing set for next week, the elected officials said Thursday they had agreed to merge the two proposed ordinances into one that includes fewer religious-based exemptions. The combined version will not include an exemption based on "religious conscience," which Evans had proposed.

The clause would have allowed bakers, photographers and other professionals to refuse to serve same-sex or even, potentially, interracial weddings on religious grounds.

Evans said he was hearing general concern that the language of the exemption in his measure was too broad, though some social conservatives had said it didn't go far enough.

The merged Evans-Flynn ordinance does strengthen an exemption for those with ministerial duties beyond what either Evans or Flynn originally proposed, according to both Assembly members. That means the law will not apply to individuals whose duties include "teaching or spreading religious doctrine or belief, supervision of persons teaching or spreading religious doctrine or belief, or supervision or participation in religious ritual or worship." That exemption would include pastors, rabbis and imams and religious school teachers.

An Assembly attorney was working Thursday to draft the compromise version. Evans and Flynn said they hoped it would be available in time for a public Assembly work session at 1 p.m. Friday in the Assembly's City Hall conference room. (Update: Read the compromise version here.)

Evans renewed community debate on local anti-discrimination law in August when he first put forward what he billed as a "compromise" between protections for the gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual community and religious individuals -- though it wasn't a compromise he negotiated between interest groups. He said Thursday he's pleased with the agreement with Flynn, and that both were interested in avoiding competing ordinances.

"Our goals were the same," Evans said. He added: "It's not ideal … but these things are seldom ideal."

The Assembly is scheduled to hear testimony on all three versions of the ordinance at its Tuesday meeting, though the merged Evans-Flynn ordinance appears to be the most likely to move forward.

Assembly Chair Dick Traini said he's prepared to schedule a second hearing for Wednesday afternoon if the body runs out of time Tuesday night.

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