New protections for LGBTQ individuals unanimously approved in Ketchikan

Protesters with signs and rainbow flags in Ketchikan
Protesters rally on June 5 outside a Ketchikan flower shop that reportedly refused to take an order for a same-sex wedding. (Eric Stone/KRBD)

An ordinance that prohibits discrimination against LGTBQ individuals in Ketchikan city limits was passed Thursday, July 16th. The local law was approved by the Ketchikan City Council over the objections of religious advocates.

Ketchikan’s new protections for LGBTQ individuals unanimously approved by the City Council are wide-ranging.

Though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this summer that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in employment, the ruling’s impact in other settings isn’t settled.

Ketchikan’s ordinance also bans discrimination against LGBTQ individuals in housing and in public businesses.

The proposal followed a high-profile demonstration outside Heavenly Creations, a Ketchikan flower shop, after the owner reportedly refused to take an order for a same-sex wedding.

Heavenly Creations’ owner, Heather Dalin, spoke publicly about the matter for the first time at the council’s meeting.

“I have personally made and delivered bouquets to the members of LBGTQ community on numerous occasions,” she said. “We have not, and do not discriminate.”

She argued that the ordinance’s provisions requiring private businesses to serve customers regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity violated her own right to exercise her religious beliefs.

“When it comes to the holy sacrament of marriage, God’s word is clear,” she said. “Marriage is one of the seven sacraments where the Lord Jesus Christ is present. For you to pass an unnecessary ordinance to try and force myself to participate in a ceremony that violates not only God’s holy truth, but also strips me of my rights as an American tax-paying, law-abiding citizen is unreasonable.”

Dalin had previously declined to discuss the local controversy, citing legal advice. Though the ordinance does provide carve-outs for religious organizations and members-only clubs, businesses serving the general public — like Heavenly Creations — would be prohibited from refusing business because of a customer’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

Dalin’s argument gets at the core of a question on which the U.S. Supreme Court has so far declined to rule — whether a business can be compelled by civil rights laws to provide a service that violates the owner’s religious or moral beliefs.

Museum curator Ryan McHale testified at the council’s first meeting on the issue in June. He returned Thursday to argue that religion had long justified all kinds of discrimination.

“Much like their pro-slavery predecessors, segregationists during the Jim Crow era cited scripture as justification for maintaining racial segregation and inequality. There is little that distinguishes the religious freedom claim of today from those of the segregationists who argued that they should not be forced to hire, serve or associate with African Americans or Native Americans,” he said.

Some members of Ketchikan’s City Council expressed hesitation at the body’s July 2 meeting. But the final vote was unanimous — all seven members in favor.

With passage of the ordinance, Ketchikan joins Sitka, Juneau and Anchorage on the list of Alaska cities that bar discrimination against LGBTQ individuals. The ordinance takes effect in mid-August.

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