On Nov. 10 the Bethel City Council unanimously passed dual ordinances prohibiting discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” with regards to city employees or outside groups contracting with the city. The move places sexual orientation and gender identity on the same protected legal status as race and religion.
Bethel’s move comes just six weeks after Anchorage became the first city in Alaska to pass a sexual orientation non-discrimination law. The Anchorage law, however, is much broader in outlawing discrimination with regards to housing, public and private employment and public accommodations.
Bethel’s laws deal more narrowly with public employees and city contractors who work with the city.
The ACLU of Alaska, which actively pushes for LGBT laws across Alaska, praised Bethel’s move but called for a more comprehensive approach.
“The fight towards full equality is not over … gay and transgender Alaskans who live in Bethel but don’t work for the city still face the risk of discrimination in jobs, housing, and public accommodations,” said Joshua Decker, executive director of ACLU of Alaska.
In an email to supporters, Decker added that his groups is “committed to establishing statewide protections for everyone…” He made similar statements in the lead up to the Anchorage vote earlier this year and has been pushing for a statewide law as well.
Religious liberty advocates, however, worry that the growing movement to enshrine “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected legal classifications ultimately compels local churches, faith-based groups and private business owners to violate or simply disregard deeply held beliefs by forcing them to hire employees who are openly living a homosexual and/or transgender lifestyle, while also mandating that service companies and rental organizations promote, serve and facilitate causes and events which violate their moral beliefs, especially in the area of sexuality.
Across the nation, businesses, schools and charitable organizations have been fined or driven out of business after declining to participate in homosexual and transgender events or activities. In these cases it was not a matter of refusing to sell or provide services to homosexual individuals. Rather the targeted groups declined to lend their services to facilitate activities — such as a same-sex weddings — which run contrary to deeply held moral or religious beliefs.
The Catholic Church, for instance, opposes unjust discrimination against homosexuals, but affirms that sexual activity is designed to take place within the context of marriage between one man and one woman.
In the new Bethel laws, as with Anchorage’s, there are no religious exemptions for business owners or nonprofit groups.