It has been more than 35 years since George M. Sullivan, the former mayor of Anchorage, vetoed a bill passed by the city assembly that would have extended basic civil rights protections to gays. It has been three years since his son, Dan, the current mayor, vetoed a similar bill.
On Tuesday, supporters of gay rights in Alaska’s largest city took the issue out of the mayor’s hands — but the end result appeared likely to be the same. In a citywide ballot measure, voters were overwhelmingly rejecting language, known as Proposition 5, that would have added protections for people regardless of “sexual orientation or transgender identity” to the city’s civil rights laws.
There was some uncertainty over the vote late Tuesday. A surprisingly strong turnout caused many polling sites to run out of ballots, raising questions about the impact of ballots filed at locations other than a voter’s intended precinct. Still, with 94 percent of the vote believed to be counted late Tuesday in Anchorage, the measure was failing 58 percent to 42, defying polls showing it would succeed.
The vote followed an unusually loud and expensive campaign for a city ballot measure in Anchorage. The organizers of Proposition 5, a group called One Anchorage, included prominent politicians from both sides of the aisle (Alaska’s United States senators, Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, and Mark Begich, a Democrat, both said they supported it) and the group outspent the opposition more than 4 to 1.
One Anchorage, which had raised about $340,000 as of last week, received some of its support from outside the state, including a $25,000 donation from Tim Gill, a Colorado billionaire who has given generously to gay causes. Opposition was led by conservative religious leaders in Alaska, including within the Catholic Church, and was financed largely by one source, the Anchorage Baptist Temple and its leader, the Rev. Jerry Prevo.
“It’s cheaper to fight it at the ballot box than it will be in the courts,” Mr. Prevo said in an interview Tuesday.
Mr. Prevo’s involvement underscored the debate’s deep reach into city history and the roles of a few central families. Mr. Prevo was among those in the late 1970s who urged George Sullivan to reject the gay rights measure. He also pressed Dan Sullivan to veto the assembly bill in 2009. This year he preached to the 2,500 members of his church to reject Proposition 5, and he held offerings to raise money for the campaign against it.
Mr. Prevo and other religious leaders argued that Anchorage was a tolerant city that needed no explicit protections for gays, even as they also claimed, inaccurately, that the bill would, for example, prevent them from firing employees at their church school if they learned they were gay. Opponents ran adds suggesting various situations a new law would create, including one in which a church would not be able to prevent a cross-dresser from working in its day-care facility.
“It’s basically just a way to still be homophobic but just use different language,” Julia O’Malley, a columnist for The Anchorage Daily News, said in an interview. “That’s really what this debate is about. It hasn’t changed.”
Ms. O’Malley’s mother, Sheila Selkregg, was among those serving on the city assembly when it approved the gay rights measure in 2009. Her grandmother, Lidia Selkregg, was among the assembly members who supported gay rights in the 1970s before George Sullivan vetoed the bill.
Dan Sullivan was elected to a second term on Tuesday by a margin nearly identical to the one by which Proposition 5 appears to have lost.