Kelley testimony 1: Contrary to prior Assembly testimony, existing law does not protect LGBT people from discrimination

Anchorage attorney and UAA Justice Center professor Pamela Kelley. Pam was too far down on the list to testify on July 7, but came back to testify on July 21 to correct the record about whether existing law protects LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and financial practices.  (Hint: it doesnt.)

Anchorage attorney and UAA Justice Center professor Pamela Kelley outside July 7 Assembly meeting. Pam was too far down on the list to testify on July 7, but came back to testify on July 21 to correct the record about whether existing law protects LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and financial practices. (Hint: it doesn't.)

Among the few arguments against proposed Anchorage ordinance AO 2009-64 that does not involve Christianist claims about the Bible is the claim that such an ordinance is unnecessary — that existing law already protects lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transfolk from unfair discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and financial practices.

Would that it were so. Unfortunately, it’s a false claim, which was ably refuted by attorney Pamela R. Kelley in her testimony last Tuesday night (beginning 3:02:00 and ending about 3:07:00 into the Assembly meeting for anyone who wants to take a look at the video of testimony for the June 21 meeting).  At least, as ably as she could do given only 3 minutes in which to testify, with a few extra minutes added when members of the Assembly asked her questions.

For the record, Pamela R. Kelley is a professor at the Justice Center at University of Alaska Anchorage, where she for several years has been the coordinator of the Justice Center’s Paralegal Certificate Program and has taught numerous courses on law, justice, and legal research. I, of course, work at the Justice Center too; it’s been my great pleasure and privilege over the years to count Pam not only as a coworker, but also as a friend.

Pam addressed a number of points of law during her Tuesday night testimony. She was kind enough to provide me with a copy of her prepared testimony.  However, there’s a caveat.  As she wrote to me in her email in which a copy of her testimony was attached,

I didn’t stick to my script very well after case law was mangled by an earlier speaker.  I didn’t get to make an important point about the distinction between anti-discriminatory treatment and affirmative action.

There was also some confusion about a particular case mentioned by the earlier speaker; see the next post for Pam’s clarification on that.

All emphases added by me.

Prof. Kelley’s prepared testimony

No. 541 [a reference to Pam’s place on the witness list]

Thank you – Madame Chairman, members of the assembly, Mr. Mayor. My name is Pamela Kelley. I am a member of the Alaska bar, no longer practicing but now teaching undergraduates about the law. I live in Anchorage. I signed up, belatedly, to testify because I think the state of the existing law has been obscured during the public comment already taken.

Federal, state and local laws overlap in the area of equal rights in employment, public accommodations and commerce. The first inaccuracy I hear repeated in these chambers is the idea that existing law already provides the protections that the proposed ordinance would cover. It does not.

The Constitution’s equal protection clauses, at the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, limit actions by the government – not private acts of discrimination. Nor are federal statutes helpful.

In Title 42 of the United States Code, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended reaches the area. Federal law here identifies those classes of persons against whom discrimination is illegal to include: race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability. None of those terms – including “sex” as defined, reach lesbians, gays, bisexual and trans-gendered individuals. But that only sets the minimums. The state of Alaska law may reach additional classes. Upon examination, however, it’s apparent that the Alaska Human Rights Act does not expand the classifications to cover this.

AS 18.80.220. protects against discrimination based on: race, religion, color, national origin, age, disability, sex, marital status, changes in marital status, pregnancy, or parenthood. Gender orientation and gender identity are not identified as protected classes by state law, either.

The second category of comments that is legally inaccurate suggests the proposed ordinance confers special rights. One of two things might be going on here. Either some might be confusing the concept of non-discrimination with affirmative action. Or, some erroneously consider equal protection a kind of zero-sum game.

First: Discrimination occurs when one possessed of differences from another is rejected by that other, solely based on that difference. Only certain forms of discrimination are illegal under state, federal and local law. Same treatment as everyone else – despite differences – is the foundation of equal rights law.

Different, in fact preferential, treatment is what is at the basis of affirmative action. Affirmative action is a term used to describe programs and policies that provide preferences in benefits or contracting to a protected class to make up for historically discriminatory practices directed at that class. Obviously not the ordinance.

That leaves me with the “zero sum game” fallacy. There is no finite pool of rights to which equal protection applies. Our religious neighbors, in the free exercise of their religion, as a constitutional right, are not released from their obligations to comply with the law. The right of free exercise of religion does not prevent the law’s application when the doctrine of a freely chosen religion suggests members violate public laws. The simple example is the prohibition against illegal drug use that continues to apply to a person even if her selected religion views such use as sacramental.

Equal protection laws are aspirational, in a way. I hope my home town aspires to accept all of its people for exactly who they are and will apply the law to them equally.

Thank you.

P.S. on reposting

Pam Kelley granted me this permission: “Feel free to put this to any use you want — I’m proud to pop my head up (among the throngs of three-minute experts) to speak clearly about equality.” Hence, ordinance supporters may feel free, with appropriate crediting & link back to this post, to repost this blog entry freely.

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