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By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
LANSING – On Oct. 31 the Michigan State Court of Appeals ruled that the state’s Board of Canvassers must approve petitions filed last summer by an organization calling itself the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, effectively putting a measure to end affirmative action on the 2006 ballot.
MCRI was founded by a California businessman, Ward Connerly, who is attempting to export his mid-90s success banning affirmative action in his home state.
“Outside forces are coming in to change our Constitution, and Michigan needs to be active and aware of the consequences that will come from this devastating ballot proposal,” said Trisha Stein, executive director of One United Michigan, a coalition of organizations, including Michigan Equality and the Triangle Foundation, created to fight the California initiative.
Just as 2004’s Proposal 2 had wider consequences than its proponents were willing to admit during the campaign, so too could the California proposal. In one instance cited by the University of Michigan’s Center for the Education of Women in 2000, after the passage of a similar affirmative action ban in California, a men’s group sued the state in an attempt to close battered women’s shelters and other services. The CEW study also cited an “immediate and dramatic drop in hiring of women faculty,” and a “decline in women and minorities enrolling in and completing medical, computer science and technology programs and entering the workforce in those fields.” Men’s and women’s health services have also been challenged, according to Stein.
“The LGBT community should care about this ballot initiative because we are a diverse community,” said Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s LGBT Project. “Our community is comprised of persons who have finally been given a level playing field through affirmative action. The primary beneficiaries of affirmative action programs are women, who comprise half of our community. Communities of color, historically disenfranchised and denied opportunities due to prejudice, are also part of the LGBT community. Affirmative action is about redressing society’s inequalities in terms of education and opportunity and is a positive way to promote and ensure diversity. Any attempt to roll back civil rights for any members of the LGBT community is a threat to all of us.”
“Attacks on affirmative action are racist and counterproductive to ending discrimination in America,” said Triangle Foundation Director of Policy Sean Kosofsky. “Triangle Foundation and other gay leaders will be opposing the affirmative action ban because it’s the right thing to do, and because this issue requires leadership early on.”
Michigan Equality Program Director Penny Gardner said that her organization has joined One United Michigan, “Because we believe in ending all discrimination…. We see this [initiative] as an attempt to promote racism and sexism as well as homophobia.”
Just as out-of-state anti-gay forces helped Michigan extremists pass Proposal 2, MCRI has already raised over $500,000 from out of state groups and individuals to pass the California anti-affirmative action proposal, according to a Dec. 1 letter from One United Michigan.