• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
4m 12s

Sexual orientation debate reignites in Juneau

By Rhonda McBride 5:40 AM February 25, 2014

In one day, an ongoing struggle for acceptance was heard in two legislative arenas.

JUNEAU – On the day a Senate committee was to take up a bill banning discrimination against Alaskans due to sexual orientation, the Senate minority leader called for a constitutional amendment to legalize same-sex marriage.

Sen. Hollis French, (D) Anchorage, said it was his conscience that drove him to push for the measure, even though he concedes it will be hard for the amendment to win the two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the House necessary for passage.

Still, French is hopeful.

“I think you’ll be surprised by some of the folks who may support it, maybe more quietly than others,” French said. “But I think most folks can see that this is the right thing to do.”

French said recent legal decisions around the country have convinced him that it’s time to bring the same-sex marriage debate back to Alaska.

“I think the march of history is absolutely clear,” said French, who believes Alaskans will look back on this era in the way people look back on the time when interracial marriages were prohibited by law.

The Senate majority leader argues that the state’s history on this issue is also very clear.

“It’s a debate raging in America, and Alaska spoke on it,” said Sen. John Coghill, (R) Fairbanks.

Coghill is referring to the constitutional amendment voters passed in 1998.

The measure said that in order to be valid or recognized by the state, “a marriage may only exist between one man and one woman.”

“I’ll give Senator French the benefit of the doubt. It’s a noble thing in his mind,” Coghill said. “But like I say, I fundamentally disagree.”

“It’s a different point of view, and we work in different points of view down here,” said Coghill, who stopped short of saying whether he would give French’s measure a hearing in his Judicial Committee, one of the key stops along the way for the amendment. Coghill did say it’s a legislative discussion that should be carried on with respect.

Another measure, Senate Bill 131, may have more chance for passage. If passed, it would outlaw discrimination against Alaskans based on “sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”

The bill would give the State Human Rights Commission the responsibility to protect victims of such discrimination, just as it now does in cases of racial or religious discrimination.

“It’s a civil rights bill,” said Sen. Berta Gardner, one of SB 131’s main sponsors. “And people all over this state are watching with great interest and concern.”

During almost two hours of testimony Monday, there appeared to be widespread support for the bill.

Many of those who testified told lawmakers on the Health and Social Services Committee they had personally experienced discrimination.

Drew Phoenix, who was born a female — but has since taken on the identity of a man — testified that he has faced discrimination in housing.

“I was denied housing, simply for being who I am,” Phoenix said.

For others like Glenn Cravez, an Anchorage lawyer, it’s also a personal struggle. Cravez told lawmakers he has two sons.

“One is straight. One is gay,” Cravez said. “I want both my sons to be treated the same in the eyes of the law.”

Theda Pittman, an Anchorage gay rights activist, spoke proudly of her military service and being a lesbian. But she recalled a time when she tried to hide her sexual identity.

“I had to lie about who I loved,” Pittman said. “No one would think my partner and I shared a room.”

Kimberly Hubbard, a state worker in Juneau, trembled as she spoke.

“I can’t begin to express in words the anxiety, stress and fear that comes along when you constantly hide who you are,” Hubbard said.

Jeff Rogers of Juneau told lawmakers that it’s likely people they love and care about could be affected by discrimination.

“I made the call home in October to my parents to say I’m in love with a man, and he’s moving in.  And that love I felt for my parents was extraordinary,” Rogers said. “But I will say to members of this committee and members of the Legislature, you too may get this call someday from your son or daughter – or niece or brother or sister.”

In one day, an ongoing struggle for acceptance was heard in two legislative arenas: a proposed constitutional amendment and a bill that seeks to end discrimination. And the debate, as always, strikes an emotional pitch with no quiet resolution in sight.

After introduction on the Senate floor, SJR 30 — Hollis French’s constitutional amendment — has been referred to the judicial and finance committees.

After Monday’s testimony, SB 131 remained in the Health and Social Services Committee. It also has a referral to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Latest Stories

  • News

    Fairbanks police chief put back on administrative leave by new mayor

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Oct 25, 17:45

    In one of his first official acts as the new mayor of Fairbanks, Mayor Jim Matherly placed Police Chief Randall Aragon back on paid administrative leave, effective immediately. The Fairbanks Police Department issued a statement Tuesday announcing the move. Aragon was originally placed on administrative leave in September while the city investigated claims of conflict […]

  • Man accused of murder extradited to Alaska to face trial

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Oct 25, 17:34

    Riek Gat made his first appearance in Alaska court on Tuesday for his alleged role in an August murder. Gat was extradited from West Virginia, where he fled soon after Mitchell’s murder. Mitchell was shot multiple times in the head and chest and left to die on Campbell Airstrip Road. He was found the morning […]

  • News

    DOT: Whittier tunnel closed due to rockfall

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Oct 25, 17:19

    A rockfall inside the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, which provides access to Whittier, has forced the tunnel’s closure until further notice, according to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. DOT spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said at least one large rock fell overnight and was discovered in the tunnel Tuesday morning. He said no one was […]

  • News

    Olympian Alev Kelter to speak at Alaska Women’s Summit

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Oct 25, 15:31

    Olympian Alev Kelter is back home in Alaska. She competed in the 2016 summer Olympic Games in Brazil on the women’s rugby team. Emily Carlson sat down with her to discuss her experience in Rio de Janeiro and what’s next for the Alaska athlete. Both Carlson and Kelter will be speaking at the 2016 Alaska […]

  • News

    National Guard seeks Alaska Natives with subsistence skills

    by Adrian Wagner/KYUK on Oct 25, 14:49

    This story originated from KYUK Public Media and was republished with permission. BETHEL — The Army National Guard has announced the start of a three-year pilot program that gives waivers to Alaska Natives who might be trying to join the Guard, but face barriers to qualification. Some of these potential recruits have the very skills the military […]

  • Politics

    Alaska governor puts pension bond plan on hold

    by KTVA / AP on Oct 25, 14:35

    Gov. Bill Walker says the state will not proceed with plans to sell bonds to help pay for Alaska’s pension obligations at this time, citing lack of support from Senate lawmakers. In a statement Tuesday, Walker said administration officials discussed the proposal with the Senate Finance Committee but did not get buy-in for the idea. […]

  • DayBreak

    Recipe Box: Apple Doughnuts

    by Sierra Starks on Oct 25, 13:02

    The doughnut — in all its glory of icings, toppings and drizzles — is a breakfast staple. But Anchorage mom and blogger Lesleigh Frank recently took it one step further for her daughter’s third birthday. “I made pumpkin donuts and stacked them up on a big cake plate and then covered it in cream cheese frosting,” […]

  • News

    UN expert: Junk food is a human rights concern

    by Associated Press on Oct 25, 12:52

    UNITED NATIONS (AP) – A U.N. expert says junk food is a human rights concern. Hilal Elver said Tuesday the rise of industrial food production combined with trade liberalization has allowed large corporations to flood the global market with cheap, nutrient-poor foods that force poor people to choose between economic viability and nutrition, effectively violating […]