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The city commission of Kalamazoo took a giant step towards passing a civil rights ordinance that protects LGBT people from discrimination in housing employment and public accommodations. On Monday evening, the commission voted to approve the new ordinance in a first reading. The final reading and vote on the ordinance is now scheduled for Dec. 1.
The ordinance is supported by all seven of the city commissioners and by the mayor of Kalamazoo. It is expected to pass without opposition.
Passage of the ordinance, if realized, comes after 18 months of work by the volunteers of the Kalamazoo Alliance for Equality, or KARE, a political action committee formed in the spring of 2007. Terry Kuseske, chair of KARE, said he is excited about the approval the ordinance received Monday, and is looking forward to the Dec. 1 final vote. He is also aware that opposition exists in Kalamazoo, and expects some negative reaction by the right-wingers in the area.
“It’s been a long hard road,” said Kuseske. “And I know the fight isn’t over until we see what the reactions of the neo-cons will have.”
Assuming the ordinance passes, opponents could force a repeal vote in a special election. However, Kuseske believes that the extensive work that KARE has done to build alliances with other progressive groups in Kalamazoo, and the battle-tested activists who fought against a challenge to the city’s domestic partner partner benefits program – and won – puts the group in a strong position to withstand any challenge to the ordinance at the ballot box.
“We have made sure that we have been as proactive on this as we possibly can on this ordinance. We went to the editorial board of the Kalamazoo Gazette yesterday seeking their support, we have continued to build upon the social justice group we convened last summer. The Chamber of Commerce has been approached and they said they will remain neutral on this issue, which for most Chambers, that’s a plus. We are ballot-tried from the domestic partner benefits fight, so we have the background to see it through to the end if we have to,” said a determined Kuseske.
The proposed city ordinance, dubbed the “Equal Rights Ordinance,” would protect against discrimination in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations. The ordinance would apply to both the private and public sectors, although there would be some exemptions. Churches would be exempt and so would individuals who are seeking to rent out part of a residence in which they are living.
Violations of the ordinance would be referred to the city manager and could be punished with a fine of no more than $500 plus costs of the action.
For more information on the ordinance and KARES, go to http://www.kalamazooalliance.org