Anchorage mayoral candidates debate religious freedom, sexual-identity legislation

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The two Anchorage mayoral candidates squared off in an April 27 debate in which they disagreed over religious freedom protections and whether the city should legally enshrine sexual-identity legislation.

In a debate before the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, candidates Ethan Berkowitz and Amy Demboski were sharply divided on the question of whether Anchorage should adapt legislation to establish sexual orientation and transgender identity as protected classes under the city’s nondiscrimination laws.

An attempt to enshrine special legal rights for sexual orientation and transgender identity was rejected by Anchorage voters in 2012. The failed measure would have required government agencies, private employers, schools and nonprofit groups to legally recognize and accommodate the preferred sexual orientation and transgender identity of employees, customers, teachers, students and others regardless of their actual physical biology.

The law was reflective of gender theories claiming that the realities of male and female are social constructs and not part of any natural law or given reality. Thus, according to gender theorists, varied types of sexual behaviors are perfectly acceptable.

According to a report from the Alaska Dispatch News, Ethan Berkowitz expressed his support for the failed 2012 law, which affirmed that there should be legal recognition and accommodation based on a person’s sexual practices and desires, including “heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality.”

According to the Alaska Dispatch News, Demboski strongly disagreed with Berkowitz and said such legislation would “effectively discriminate against people of faith.”

Demboski noted that similar legislation in other cities has threatened religious freedoms for business owners and non-profits.

Several high profile cases have emerged in recent years including a recent situation in which a Christian family in Oregon was fined $135,000 for refusing to bake a cake explicitly for the homosexual “wedding,” which they said ran contrary to their religious beliefs.

In the 2012 Anchorage case, religious liberty advocates expressed concern that the Anchorage ballot measure would have force local churches, faith-based groups and business owners to violate deeply held beliefs and force them to promote and facilitate homosexual activities and causes. There were particular concerns that service-oriented businesses such as caterers, florists, bakers, print shop owners and others would no longer have been able to decline their services for homosexual and transgender functions and events which advocated for sexual activities that ran contrary to their deeply held beliefs.

According to the Alaska Dispatch News report Berkowitz was active in promoting the 2012 law and worked on the campaign through his job as a senior vice president of the marketing and consulting group Strategies 360.

During the recent debate Berkowitz said he supported the law for “moral reasons” and “because it makes business sense.”

Demboski, however, called it a “war on Christianity.”

In 2012, opponents of the initiative said the government oversteps its rightful limits when it requires people to violate their conscience and religious beliefs over a highly controversial moral issue in order to operate in the public square.

Both supporters and opponents of the initiative noted that the 2012 law would likely have impacted church-owned facilities in Anchorage which are often rented to various groups for public concerts, community gatherings, retreats and other events not specifically related to the religious mission of the church.

According to city code, refusal to abide by the proposed law would have resulted in a $500 fine, 30 days in jail, or both.

At the April 27 mayoral debate, the Alaska Dispatch News noted that Berkowitz spoke to the question of how a homosexual rights law would impact religious groups. While claiming to support religious freedoms Berkowitz said, “once people enter the public arena, we have to treat everybody equally.”

But opponents of such laws maintain that there is a considerable difference between denying someone basic human rights and refusing to condone or facilitate homosexual and transgender activities and causes.


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