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'Sad day for democracy': Mayor vetoes Alaska city's newly passed LGBTQ protections

Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly is now pushing for the recently passed LGBTQ nondiscrimination measure to be added to the ballot later this year.

Just days after the city council of Fairbanks, Alaska, voted in favor of an LGBTQ anti-discrimination ordinance, the city’s mayor announced he plans to veto the measure.

“I do not take this action lightly,” Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly stated in a letter addressed to the city’s residents. “I became a sponsor of Ordinance 6093 because I believe that all people should be treated with dignity and respect, and the concept behind this Ordinance is sound. As with most concepts, the details become challenging when they affect so many people with different priorities and opinions.”

Mayor Jim Matherly, City of Fairbanks, Alaska.
Mayor Jim Matherly, City of Fairbanks, Alaska.City of Fairbanks

Following months of debate, Fairbanks passed on Monday Ordinance 6093, which extends protections in employment, housing and public accommodations to those discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. If Matherly had not decided to use his veto power, the council’s 4-2 vote would have made Fairbanks the fourth city in Alaska with an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination law on the books, following Anchorage, Juneau and Sitka.

Shortly after Monday’s council vote, Council Member Kathy Ottersten told NBC News Matherly had “said on many occasions that he wants this to be a unanimous vote.” In order to have been veto-proof, five members of the council would have had to vote for the ordinance.

Shoshana Rock Kun, one of the four council members who voted in favor of Ordinance 6093, said she was “surprised” by Matherly’s veto following hours of public comment in the weeks leading up to the city council vote. Kun told NBC News that “80 percent” of those who weighed in supported the measure.

“It is a sad day for democracy,” Kun said. “The mayor has essentially wasted taxpayer dollars and resources by not following the majority of constituents that spoke up regarding the need for equal protection.”

Matherly, who did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment, is now pushing to have LGBTQ discrimination measures put on the ballot in October.

“I believe this question should be given to City residents that choose to exercise their voting rights,” he wrote in his March 1 letter. “This ordinance is bigger than a Mayor and six Council Members, and the decision needs to be in the hands of the voters of Fairbanks.”

Should the Fairbanks City Council allow a ballot measure to move forward, it would be the second time in two years Alaskans have voted on protections for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community. In March of last year, Anchorage voted to keep its nondiscrimination ordinance on the books by a six-point margin.

Lillian Lennon, who campaigned in favor of Anchorage’s nondiscrimination measure, said LGBTQ people and their allies will continue to fight to be treated equally in the state of Alaska.

“Mayor Matherly made a spineless decision today to stand in the way of democracy and in the way of basic human rights,” Lennon, a board member for Trans Leadership Alaska, told NBC News. “Regardless, we will make sure that when this issue reaches the ballot, we continue to stand with the people of Fairbanks for equality and make sure Mayor Matherly knows that he made the wrong decision.”