Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Culture War: Testimony Resumes At June 23rd Assembly Meeting On Proposed Anchorage Gay Nondiscrimination Ordinance (Ordinance #64)

Update #1 June 24th: Public testimony was not finished at the June 23rd Assembly meeting. Consequently, Ordinance #64, if it ever passes, is now officially out of the hands of current Mayor Matt Claman. Incoming Mayor Dan Sullivan will get to make the final call. Good work, Redshirts!

Update #2 June 24th: Mayor Matt Claman now proposing to put this issue on the ballot for the voters as prospective charter amendments. Media story HERE.. Proposed charter amendments now available HERE and HERE.

After a six-day truce, the culture war in Anchorage, Alaska resumes beginning at 5:00 P.M. on June 23rd at Assembly Chambers at the Loussac Library. Testimony on the proposed gay nondiscrimination ordinance, now simply referred to as Ordinance #64 because there are three different versions on the street, will resume. All previous posts on this issue can be viewed HERE. Media stories now available from the Anchorage Daily News and KTUU Channel 2.

It is actually the first of two meetings scheduled this week. The June 23rd meeting is a regularly-scheduled meeting which will feature other issues on the agenda. Testimony on Ordinance #64 (item 13B on the agenda) would not likely begin until 6:00 P.M. at the earliest. A special meeting has also been scheduled for June 24th beginning at 5:00 P.M.; this meeting is strictly designed to account for any unfinished business from the June 23rd meeting. Since this post was first published, the Assembly decided not to discuss this issue during the June 24th meeting; it will be discussed again on July 7th. Instructions for how to watch the Assembly meeting via streaming media HERE.

And there will definitely be unfinished business. At last count, 189 more people remain signed up to testify on Ordinance #64. Assembly Chair Debbie Ossiander not only has indicated that all will be heard, but she's even allowing more people to sign up to testify for the time being. However, at three minutes per whack, the testimony of 189 people will consume 567 minutes, or just under 9.5 hours. Thus it will be impossible to conclude testimony on June 23rd, and the remainder will be rolled over to June 24th. In addition, even after the testimony, the Assembly will have to choose which of the three versions of the nondiscrimination ordinance to pass. Here's a summary of the three versions:

Version 1 - Ordinance No. AO 2009-64: Original version, this is the most liberal version, and the one supported by Assembly members Flynn, Gray-Jackson, Gutierrez, Drummond, and possibly Selkregg. Known opposition Birch and Starr.

• Adds veteran’s status and sexual orientation to the list of protected categories.
• Defines “sexual orientation” as homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender people.

Version 2 - Ordinance No. AO 2009-64(S): Second version crafted by Mayor Matt Claman.

• Removes “veteran’s status.”
• Excludes small, home-operated businesses with no more than four people from the whole law, meaning those businesses can discriminate based on sexual orientation, race, color, sex, religion, ethnicity, age, etc.
• All employers have the right to impose dress codes or other work rules.
• Biologically male people must use male bathrooms, and biologically female people must use female restrooms.
• Exempts religious organizations — so they can discriminate based on sexual orientation.

Version 3 - Ordinance No. AO 2009-64(S-1): Third version, submitted by Debbie Ossiander. Assembly members Gutierrez and Gray-Jackson would drop from the list of supporters.

• Definition of “sexual orientation” is narrowed to exclude transgender people.
• Allows all employers to discriminate based on sexual orientation.
• The city’s Equal Rights Commission is instructed to track complaints alleging discrimination (to inform further discussion).
• Businesses that deal with the public can impose dress codes, work rules, codes of conduct, etc.

The difference between a June 23rd passage and a June 24th passage would be like the difference between night and day. As explained in greater detail HERE, if the ordinance could be passed on June 23rd, implementation is almost a slam dunk because the seven-day mayoral veto window expires on June 30th, the last day of Mayor Matt Claman's administration. Claman has indicated he would not veto it. In contrast, a June 24th passage would extend the veto window to July 1st, the first day of Dan Sullivan's new administration.

Debbie Ossiander believes that Mayor-elect Sullivan would veto the ordinance. Sullivan himself has not committed, saying that he's waiting to see which version is passed by the Assembly. Here's my take on how Sullivan would react. He is almost dead certain to veto Version 1, which is the most liberal version. There is also a strong possibility that he would also veto Version 2, but it's not necessarily a slam dunk. However, I believe there is a realistic possibility that Sullivan may not veto Version 3, primarily because the most outspoken opponent of the ordinance, Dr. Jerry Prevo, has dropped hints that he might be able to "possibly" consider supporting an amendment if the word "sexual orientation" was removed and in its place was written "straight, gay and lesbians," and if iron-clad exemptions were given to not only religious organizations but also religious people. Thus Sullivan might decide he could let Version 3 become law without significantly alienating a key component of his core constituency.

But this also depends upon which version the Assembly passes. Version 1 is unlikely to pass muster - too much conservative opposition. Version 3 is considered too watered down by a couple of the liberal Assembly members; it most likely will be shot down. So if the Assembly actually votes on the issue, it most likely will be version 2. And version 2 may have the strength to pass, but just barely. But if the Assembly wants to minimize the chances of a Sullivan veto, they should pass version 3.

In any event, it is important that those who have signed up to testify show up and follow through on June 23rd in order to force the veto window into the Sullivan administration. Yes, this is filibustering, but is it fair to force Dan Sullivan to inherit an ordinance he had no hand in crafting? No more so than it was fair for Matt Claman to be forced to inherit a budget deficit from the spendthrift Begich administration (although Claman did very little to check Begich's spendthrift tendencies).

And finally, a word to the wise to those who intend to testify against the ordinance. There have been complaints from both sides that too much of the testimony has been focusing on religious aspects. Testimony has actually become redundant at times. Since we have religious pluralism in this country, those who testify during the next two days are better advised to focus more on the following talking points:

-- Infringement upon personal liberty; namely, the right to control one's property and access to it thereof.
-- Lack of justification. Unlike the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was passed to dismantle organized institutional discrimination in the form of forced racial segregation in the United States, there is no organized institutional discrimination against nor forced segregation of gays in Anchorage.
-- Granting statutory protection to a particular form of behavior rather than to a status. While race and sex (or gender) are determined by birth and thus constitute a status, homosexuality is a form of behavior. It is questionable whether or not we should be granting statutory protection to a particular form of behavior.
-- What do we mean by "religious exemption"? Specifically, what will we define as a "religion"? Does one have to belong to a church to qualify? There is no provision for individual conscientious objection for those who are unchurched.

In the increasingly-remote event that a version of the ordinance passes, there would likely be a campaign for a ballot measure to repeal it later. Leading informational websites by partisans:

-- SOS Anchorage
-- Alaska Family Council
-- Equality Works
-- Alaskans Together For Equality
-- Assemblyman Patrick Flynn, a major supporter of the ordinance.

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