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Over twenty Michigan cities, including Ferndale, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Lansing and Detroit, could be stripped of their local human rights ordinances if Michigan House Bill 5039 passes.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills), would amend the state’s 1976 Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to limit protected classes to those outlined in that law. HB 5039 states, “A state agency or unit 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 Oct. 5, 2011 and was sent to the House Judiciary Committee. On Nov. 28, 2011 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.”
McMillan has a long history of anti-LGBT campaigns. From 1994 to 1997, he was field director for the anti-LGBT Michigan Christian Coalition. In 2000, McMillin was treasurer of Oakland County Residents for Equal Rights Not Special Rights, the group that opposed Ferndale’s LGBT-inclusive Human Rights Ordinance.
McMillin did not return BTL’s request for comment by press time.
Reactions have been heated and swift against HB 5039. Numerous city councils have passed resolutions condemning the bill, and civic leaders have been outspoken in their concern that the state is overreaching its authority by attempting to limit localities’ ability to govern themselves.
On Nov. 15, the City Council of Ypsilanti unanimously passed a resolution in opposition to the HB 5039, which stated in part, “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 City of Ypsilanti recognizes that respect for diversity is a vital component of successful economic development and talent retention.”
Many city councils and commissions across the state have passed similar resolutions against HB 5039 and forwarded them to representatives at the state level, including Lansing, Kalamazoo, Ferndale, Ann Arbor, Traverse City, Saugatuck Township and East Lansing.
Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-Huntington Woods) opposes 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. 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 an 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.
Mayor of Saginaw, Greg Branch, credits inclusive ordinances with revitalization in his city. In 1984 the city passed broad housing legislation that includes protection for gays. “The effect of that for us was the final death blow to mortgage redlining, which was still a problem in Saginaw right up until the early 1980s. I think it also sent a pretty strong signal that we were a community that understood diversity – in all its forms – as an important element in breathing new life into a struggling city.
“I don’t want it to be legal for a mortgage lender to be able to refuse a home loan to some of the members of our Historic District Commission, or a local college professor, or a local architect, or anyone else who wants to invest in Saginaw, ‘I’m sorry, but I’m not going to lend to you because you’re gay.’ I don’t want an agency distributing CDBG home improvement funds to say to an older couple of long-time teachers, ‘sorry, we’re rejecting your application because you’re dykes.’ I don’t want landlords to be able to legally tell young artists ‘I don’t rent to queers.'”
Michael Gregor of Equality Michigan said, “Regardless of reported complaints, local nondiscrimination ordinances send an important message to employers that it’s not okay to fire someone just because they’re gay or transgender. A statewide law has the same effect. These policies allow communities to set the expectation that all people should have a fair chance at a job and the same opportunity to rent a home.”