Anchorage’s LGBT rights ordinance, AO-96, is slated to be voted on by the Anchorage Assembly Tuesday night.
After the assembly’s work session on Friday, we now have a good idea about the different forms the ordinance could take. The assembly heard 17 proposed amendments and Assembly Chairman Dick Traini said he doesn’t want, and will vote against, any new amendments. In those amendments assembly members have put forward various options for defining gender identity, crafting exceptions for those persons or organizations that have a religious objection to LGBT lifestyles, and dealing with segregating bathrooms, dressing rooms, or locker rooms. All of these are legitimate policy debates the community should discuss before passing anything on such an issue.
What we don’t know: Where Anchorage’s new Mayor Ethan Berkowitz stands. Since the ordinance was introduced on August 13th, Berkowitz has not publicly commented on it or any of the issues that arise from it.
His silence on this issue is notable since Berkowitz was a spokesman for the One Anchorage campaign that formed specifically to push a ballot initiative with similar content in 2012. He has also made his support for this kind of a ordinance a key component of his administration’s flagship initiative to drive the city towards greater diversity and tolerance. In his transition report, the Mayor said he wanted to pass such an ordinance in the first six months of his administration.
Once AO-96 was introduced, however, the Mayor went radio silent on the issue.
One reason for his silence is his natural inclination, as a former legislator and first time executive, to let the legislative body do their work without interference.
Then there are the political calculations. Supporters of AO-96 know they have the votes to pass what they want, so they have been uninterested in working with opponents to find a solution that , while neither side would be happy with, both sides could live with. The failure to pursue such a solution means this spring the issue is almost certainly headed to the ballot box via initiative and will be a central issue in assembly races.
For the time being Berkowitz is favoring silence and keeping his political options open for the future, over leading now.
Berkowitz has the votes to get what he wants so he can afford to stand back and let assembly members take the heat. It isn’t hard to understand why a politician in the Mayor’s position might seek out this strategy. What is astonishing is that the media allows him to get away with this.
As a “strong mayor,” he is also the chief administrator of the city. As such, Berkowitz will be chiefly responsible for implementing and enforcing the new rules.
The Mayor’s previous support for such measures doesn’t preclude several possible paths forward that should bear on the debate. He could view passage of AO-96 as an achievement in itself, with no further work needed beyond protecting it from repeal. Given the Mayor’s public push on diversity issues, however, the more likely scenario is that the Mayor views the measure as the kickoff to a new initiative by his administration to educate not only the LGBT but other protected groups in the community about what protections they now have and how to file complaints of discrimination. If this is the case, new funding requests for the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission and the Office of Equal Opportunity to process a slew of new complaints would almost certainly be forthcoming.
Someone should ask how the Mayor plans to proceed after the law’s passage. The scope and depth of his plans should be part of the public record so reasonable people can decide for themselves if they support it.
Here are a few things the media should put the Mayor on the record about before any vote is taken:
- How would you implement the ordinance?
- Would your administration actively promote the new rules and encourage people to file complaints under it? If so, how aggressively?
- Do you support exemptions for religious organizations in any form?
- Do you support exemptions for religious conscience of people or businesses in any form?
- What do you see as the real world ramifications, both positive and negative, of such an ordinance?
- Is there any middle ground to be found on the issue?
If the media isn’t up to the task perhaps assembly members themselves should consider putting these questions to the Mayor before the vote happens. How can assembly members claim to cast fully informed votes or have done their due diligence until that happens?