A resolution passed by Ketchikan’s borough assembly supporting statewide protections for LGBTQ people in Alaska has been vetoed by the borough’s mayor.
The assembly had voted 6-1 in favor of the resolution and could likely bring the issue back for another vote next month.
There’s no state law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. Some localities — including the city of Ketchikan — have addressed this through local ordinances. Ketchikan’s borough assembly voted 6-1 on Monday calling on state lawmakers to create broad protections across Alaska.
“I think it’s sad that this day and age – actually, it’s not sad, it’s a travesty that this day and age we have to make laws like this,” said Ketchikan borough assembly member Sven Westergard, who co-sponsored the measure. “To not judge a person by their acts and what they do, if they’re a good or bad person, we judge them by how they look or who they love, it just boils my blood.”
Co-sponsor A.J. Pierce agreed.
“I do believe that this state should be an all-inclusive state, of which we are not at this point,” she said.
The assembly voted 6-1 to endorse a statewide anti-discrimination law, with assembly member Susan Pickrell the lone vote against. But borough mayor Rodney Dial — who normally casts votes to break a tie — used his power to veto the measure.
“I simply can’t have any part of this because of my faith,” Dial said.
It’s come up in Ketchikan before. Heavenly Creations, a flower shop that reportedly declined to take an order for a same-sex wedding, caused community uproar that eventually led Ketchikan’s city council to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance.
Dial argued that Christian artists and artisans shouldn’t be required to create works that violate their religious beliefs.
Attorneys for a Colorado cake shop owner made a similar argument in front of the Supreme Court in 2017. But the court declined to rule on that specific question. Another case from Washington state remains unsettled.
Dial told fellow borough assembly members that everyone experiences discrimination in one form or another.
“And if you don’t believe that’s true, go wear a MAGA hat through Seattle and see how many businesses you get kicked out of,” he said.
And beyond that, he argued that anti-gay discrimination isn’t widespread in Ketchikan.
“There’s very little discrimination in town to begin with. There’s many Christian businesses out there that sell to everybody every day,” Dial said.
Assembly member Austin Otos didn’t appear convinced. He says anyone should be able to access a public-facing business. He pointed out that state legislation would not affect religious institutions like churches.
I just don’t think you have the right to discriminate against people and hide behind your religion doing so while also having doors open to the public for business.”
In an interview Tuesday, Dial further explained his veto.
“I didn’t want to really have any part of an action that would essentially not only create, transfer discrimination from one group to another, but allow what could lead to Christian persecution in our community by empowering individuals to use that proposed law to force Christian-owned businesses to either compromise their religious beliefs, or face lawsuits and civil penalties, which would be designed to force their compliance or shut them down.”
The assembly would need five votes to override Dial’s veto. Otos says that given the 6-1 vote, he’s confident the assembly will ultimately override the borough mayor’s veto.
The assembly’s next meeting is Sept. 8.
Eric Stone contributed reporting.
This story has been updated to correct the date of the next assembly meeting.