Alliance Defense Fund Stokes Anti-Gay Fears in Alaska, Quickly Debunked by Alaskans

The Religious Right legal advocacy group the Alliance Defense Fund is working with the far-right Alaska Family Council to fight an anti-discrimination ordinance in Anchorage, Alaska, because it will protect people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. The Arizona-based ADF has made it its mission to fighting against gay rights in the courts, and its president Alan Sears earlier claimed that “no compromise is possible” with “the homosexual agenda.”

The Anchorage Daily News reports that ADF lawyer Holly Carmichael is telling Anchorage voters that religious liberty would be threatened by the initiative, but local religious groups and Anchorage employment lawyer Thomas Daniel interviewed say that the ADF isn’t telling the truth as the ordinance plainly does not affect existing religious exemptions:

A national conservative Christian legal group says the gay rights initiative on Anchorage’s April 3 city election ballot, coupled with existing Anchorage discrimination law, undercuts religious liberty.

But a well-known Anchorage employment lawyer, Thomas Daniel, says he doesn’t think the initiative impinges on freedom for religious groups at all.

The initiative up for public vote would extend legal protections against discrimination to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in Anchorage. Current law already prohibits discrimination in employment, loans, rentals, real estate deals and other activities on the basis of race, color, marital status, sex, religion, disabilities and the like. The initiative would add sexual orientation and transgender identity to the list.

The main problem as the Alliance Defense Fund sees it is that private business owners could be forced to hire or do business with people whose sexual orientation doesn’t match their religious beliefs, said Holly Carmichael, a lawyer for the fund.

“The ultimate concern with enacting something like that is that it infringes on religious freedoms,” Carmichael said. “There’s a huge constitutional concern here. Both Carmichael and Daniel, the Anchorage attorney, agree that religious organizations are protected by an exemption already in city law that says religious institutions and groups can give preferential treatment to people of the same religion if they are, for example, hiring someone who will promote religious principles.

The Defense Fund analyzed the Anchorage initiative several weeks ago at the request of the Alaska Family Council, a conservative Christian organization that opposes the initiative.

“We just want to be really clear about the consequences of enacting it,” said Jim Minnery, Alaska Family Council president.

Supporters of the initiative also include religious people, with 40 ordained pastors plus others in two pro-initiative groups, Christians for Equality and Faith Leaders for Equality, said the Rev. Michael Burke of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.

Burke said sponsors of the initiative consciously decided not to change the existing Anchorage law regarding religious exemptions to discrimination law. In cases where religious principles are not involved, religious groups do have to follow discrimination law with regard to race, color, sex, religion, etc. But the initiative sponsors did not add sexual orientation or transgender identity to the list.