Poll: Majority of Anchorage voters support equal rights ordinance

An Alaska Dispatch News poll found that a majority of Anchorage voters support the city's new law barring discrimination against gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people.

Of 311 registered voters, 70 percent said they either strongly or mildly supported adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes for employment and housing in city law -- a change the Anchorage Assembly approved in a 9-2 vote last fall. Twenty-five percent said they strongly or mildly opposed the change. Four percent were not sure.

Asked whether they would vote to repeal the law, 62 percent said no, and 33 percent said yes. Again, 4 percent responded they were not sure.

Moore said the poll reflected rapidly changing attitudes toward equal rights since Anchorage voters rejected a similar initiative in 2012.

"It would stand to reason that things would sort of move in favor of this issue, over time," Moore said. "The second thing is, it's tougher to repeal something than it is to pass it in the first place."

Nevertheless, opponents of the law have vowed to fight to repeal the law. One effort stalled last month, as petitioners wrangled with the city attorney's office over ballot language. The petition's main sponsor, former talk-show host Bernadette Wilson, hasn't yet said what the next step will be.

Asked about Moore's poll, Jim Minnery, executive director of Alaska Family Action, said his organization has kept informal tabs on public opinion. He said he believed most of the 57 percent of voters who opposed a 2012 initiative to create a similar anti-discrimination law had not changed their minds, and could guarantee future challenges.

"At some point, we're going to address what we think is a serious miscalculation by the Anchorage Assembly, to force this on folks without giving people a chance to chime in," Minnery said.

Minnery added: "It will happen soon, that's all I can say now."

Minnery also said his group and other opponents hadn't conducted a formal poll on the issue.

Even if opponents of the equal rights ordinance resume their bid for a referendum, it's too late to make the April city election ballot.

According to Moore's data, 47 percent of poll respondents identified themselves as ideologically moderate. Another 33 percent identified as conservative, and 21 percent identified as progressive.

The majority, 60 percent, said they weren't affiliated with a party. Democrats comprised 12 percent, and Republicans comprised 27 percent.

Anchorage resident Gale Engblom, 67, participated in the poll and said she's liberal-leaning on issues. She said she would be against repeal.

She said the opposition's fears about men using the law as a premise to enter women's bathrooms are unfounded. She said such behavior could have happened before the law took effect, and remains illegal.

Another Anchorage resident who participated in the poll, Dave Hinman, 56, said he was strongly against the ordinance and would support repeal.

"It sends a message that, yeah, we welcome that kind of lifestyle," Hinman said.

He said he did not think the Anchorage law was warranted.

"I don't think there's discrimination already against (LGBT people)," Hinman said. "The social pressure is not to discriminate against them. I don't see why we need to make a law like that."

In late April, a poll conducted by Anchorage political consultant Marc Hellenthal found a majority of Anchorage voters supported same-sex marriage.

Hellenthal, who often polls for Republicans, used the same wording as a national Gallup poll, asking whether or not same-sex marriage should be recognized by the law as valid.

Of 271 registered Anchorage voters, 58.2 percent said it should be recognized as valid, and 37.8 percent said otherwise. The results of the poll, which had a 5.8 percent margin of error, reflected national trends, Hellenthal said.

Hellenthal said Moore's question, which asked about adding sexual orientation and gender identity to a list of protected classes, didn't play to emotional issues like same-sex marriage. He said that likely strengthened Moore's result.