Anchorage approves gay-rights ordinance; veto still possible

ANCHORAGE — By a 7-4 vote, the Anchorage Assembly Tuesday approved a compromise ordinance that bans discrimination in Anchorage on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The vote capped two months of public meetings on a controversial issue that has engaged the community for a generation. The Assembly itself debated for most of an hour Tuesday, displaying emotion and passion not often seen in the chambers.

The majority falls one vote short of reaching the 8-vote supermajority needed to override a mayoral veto. Mayor Dan Sullivan said before the vote he had not decided if he would take that step. He has seven days to decide.

Assemblyman Patrick Flynn authored the successful compromise, which had the support of Matt Claman, Elvi Gray-Jackson, Jennifer Johnston, Mike Gutierrez, Sheila Selkregg and vice-chairwoman Harriet Drummond. Chair Debbie Ossiander and members Chris Birch, Bill Starr and Dan Coffey opposed.

Flynn's proposal sought to protect the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people to employment, credit, public accommodations and housing free from discrimination. It also spelled out exemptions for churches and other religious organizations.

Selkregg said Flynn's version of the ordinance was "an effort to respect the religious community" that packed the Assembly's chambers to oppose the proposal. "It allows churches to choose who they hire" in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs, she said.

Birch and Starr said they had not been convinced that discrimination against gays and lesbians is a problem in Anchorage. "I don't see signs that say, 'No Gays Allowed,' " Starr said.

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