Supporters and opponents filled the historic Michigan Theater Tuesday night to tell city councilmembers in Jackson their views on a non-discrimination law. BTL Photo Todd Heywood
After nearly five hours of public testimony Tuesday night, the Jackson City Council voted 5-2 in favor of adopting a new non-discrimination ordinance, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Council members Derek Dobies, Freddie Dancy, Andrew Frounfelker, Arlene Robinson and Daniel Greer voted yes. Mayor Bill Jors and Craig Pappin voted no. Greer voted no two weeks ago on first reading of the ordinance. He did not explain his change of heart. Frounfelker has been on council for years and has previously opposed the ordinance. He has said he changed his mind.
“What I have realized is that hundreds have also picked up a paintbrush and also helped paint Jackson’s narrative on the canvas of our city,” explained Derek Dobies, the sixth ward city council member and vice mayor who introduced the ordinance.
“Together we can paint a picture to the rest of Michigan to the LGBT community and our allies that depicts Jackson as a tolerant inclusive community. When it speaks to the LGBT community with the message that we will welcome you, protect you and rebuild our city with you in it.”
The vote makes Jackson the 42nd municipality to adopt comprehensive non-discrimination laws. But it comes after 17 years after an ordinance was first introduced, and 37 years after councilmembers first broached the topic – in 1980.
Under a heavy police presence – with law enforcement from three agencies including the Jackson City Police, Jackson County Sheriff’s Department and the Michigan State Police – council members sat for hours of testimony from 156 individuals. In addition, 676 people packed the historic Michigan Theater in Downtown Jackson for the council meeting.
City officials said prior to the vote that in addition to the 156 public statements – which included 88 in favor, 66 opposed and 2 who did not express an opinion – 205 people opposed to the ordinance and 274 in favor of it submitted their views in writing at the meeting.
Supporters of a non-discrimination ordinance in Jackson draped a rainbow flag over the balcony of the Michigan Theater Tuesday night during testimony about the proposed law. BTL Photo Todd Heywood
Opponents of the law argued it would unfairly burden Christian business owners by forcing them to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. They also took issue with the $500 a day fine for those found to have violated the ordinance.
“We decided long ago that businesses open to the public open to everyone on the same terms,” said Dobies. “And state and federal law we prohibited discrimination based on race color religion age sex and a number of other protected classes. No one including LGBT individuals should be turned away from a business or is this denied service in a restaurant or store simply because who they love.”
The approval came after a full court press from a citizen group called Jackson Together as well as the business community. In addition, progressive religious leaders were also engaged in the process and had a large presence at the event Tuesday night.
Stephanie White, executive director of Equality Michigan, was present at the meeting Tuesday night. Following the vote, she congratulated the city on its move.
EQMI has been pursuing local ordinances like the one passed in Jackson as a deliberate political tactic to force the state legislature to amend the state’s Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Lawmakers have resisted such a move since 1981.
When asked when the tipping point would be with the adoption of ordinances showing lawmakers this was the right thing would be, White said, “You know I think you have to ask the state legislature. I mean how many examples do they need? They’ve got all the examples they need. That this is good for communities, good for people, good for business, good for the state, and doesn’t cause any harm. It’s time for them to act.”