(Crystal A. Proxmire, 01/01/2012)
Over a dozen Michigan Cities, including Ferndale, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Lansing and Detroit, could be stripped of their local human rights ordinances if Michigan HB 5039 passes.
The bill, introduced by Representative Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills), would amend the “Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act” to limit protected classes to those outlined in the 1976 law. HB 5039 states “A state agency or until of local government shall not adopt any ordinance, rule, regulation or policy that includes as a protected class, any classification not specifically included as a protected class under this act. Any existing ordinance, rule, regulation, or policy that includes, as a protected class, any classification not specifically included as a protected class under this act is void.”
The amendment goes on to state this would apply to any state agency or unit of local government including school districts and cities.
The bill was introduced on Oct. 5 and was sent to the Judiciary Committee. On Nov. 28 the committee discussed the bill but no vote was taken.
McMillin told citizenlink.com, a Focus on the Family affiliate, “I’ve been somewhat active throughout the years in trying to stop some of these special-rights ordinances for homosexual behavior, and notice they’re often used to discriminate against Christians.
‘They [local officials who oppose the bill] say we’re taking away their rights, but they’re required to abide by all kinds of laws at the state level they can’t change. This is just pointing out the need for one more.” McMillin did not yet return our request for comment.
According to Between the Lines, McMillan has been active in campaigning against inclusive protections. “From 1994 to 1997 he was the field director for the Michigan Christian Coalition. In 2000, McMillin was heavily involved in the defeat of Ferndale’s LGBT-inclusive Human Rights Ordinance where he was the treasurer of Oakland County Residents for Equal Rights Not Special Rights. The committee was heavily funded by the American Family Association and sent mail and made phone calls to voters encouraging them to vote down the ordinance,” wrote Jan Stevenson of BTL.
On Nov. 15 the City of Ypsilanti passed a resolution in opposition to the bill, citing the fact that a human rights ordinance was passed unanimously in their city in 1997, and also stating that “Article VII Section 22 of the Michigan Constitution guarantees each city and village the ‘power to adopt resolutions and ordinances relating to its municipal concerns.’”
The resolution also stated that “The City of Ypsilanti recognizes that respect for diversity is a vital component of successful economic development and talent retention.” The resolution passed unanimously.
The Kalamazoo City Commission also passed a resolution on Dec. 19 opposing HB 5039. Kalamazoo passed a human rights ordinance in 2009, with a two-thirds majority of voters approving the language to include sexual orientation as a protected class.
Other cities that have passed similar resolutions include Lansing, East Lansing, and Ferndale, which passed their resolution on Nov. 14.
State Representative Ellen Cogen Lipton is opposed to HB 5039. “I do not intend to support this bill because I believe that local units of government have the right to adopt ordinances which reflect the values of their communities. I believe the state does not have the right to deny local communities the ability to make policies which fit their needs. More importantly, I do not believe it is my role as a State Representative to vote to limit protections of Michigan citizens against discrimination,” said Lipton.
Lipton also questioned the consistency of conservatives who claim to want local control and less government interference, yet are happy to use the arm of the government to take away the rights of others when it suits them. “How much more local can you get than a community decision to be open and pass anti-discrimination ordinances about housing and public spaces? And then for a state legislature to step in and say ‘forget about the will of the people, we know what is best’ is just ironic.”
Lipton pointed out that local ordinances do more than make a statement about civil rights, they can be good economic tools. “Think about a community like Ferndale that made a decision at a time when it wasn’t the most popular. People make decisions about where they want to live based on where they feel comfortable. The people of Ferndale knew that, and they branded themselves as a welcoming community. And look how they have weathered the economic storm. They did the right thing for the right reasons, and they were rewarded economically for it.”
Ann Heler, one of three chairs for the 2006 Human Rights Ordinance Campaign in Ferndale was shocked to hear of the bill. (Craig Covey and Mary Schusterbauer also co-chaired the committee). “This ordinance was passed by citizens. We already voted on this. It is morally incorrect to do this. It is ethically incorrect and contrary to democracy. We campaigned as a community. We made posters, got signatures, went door-to-door. CFF (Citizens for Fair Ferndale) held a forum. This was all done by the will of the people, and for it to be undone by one bill is not right,” Heler said.
Representative Lipton said that the best way to oppose such legislation is for residents to contact their state representatives along with those who serve on the Judicial Committee. “When you contact your Representative about a piece of legislation, they are required to pass on your communication to the Representative who introduced the bill. So if people in many districts are writing to their Representatives it can prompt conversations that wouldn’t be had if they just contacted the one introducing it. We listen to our constituents, and if multiple people are contacting us about an issue it tends to get noticed.”
Representative McMillin’s legislative website is http://www.gophouse.com/welcome.asp?District=45, which includes multiple methods of contact. The Judiciary Committee Representatives are listed below, with the Emails linked to their names.
John J. Walsh (R), Committee Chair, 19th District
Kurt Heise (R), Majority Vice-Chair, 20th District
Judson S. Gilbert II (R), 81st District
Kenneth B. Horn (R), 94th District
Kurt Damrow (R), 84th District
Paul Muxlow (R), 83rd District
Bradford C. Jacobsen (R), 46th District
Peter Pettalia (R), 106th District
Pat Somerville (R), 23rd District
Kevin Cotter (R), 99th District
Mark S. Meadows (D), Minority Vice-Chair, 69th District
Bob Constan (D), 16th District
Stacy Erwin Oakes (D), 95th District
Lisa Brown (D), 39th District
Jeff Irwin (D), 53rd District
Phil Cavanagh (D), 17th District
John Olumba (D), 5th District
Equality Michigan lists fifteen cities that have inclusive ordinances that would be nullified by this bill. The list is current as of July 2011, and can be viewed here.