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BY SHARON GITTLEMAN
FERNDALE – This fall, Ferndale voters will decide whether the community wants to extend human rights protection to all its residents.
On Monday, the City Council voted unanimously to place a human rights ordinance on the November ballot.
The measure will bar discrimination in housing, public accommodations, employment and public services on the basis of sexual orientation, race, color, religion, gender, age, height, weight, marital status, familial status, national origin or physical or mental disabilities.
It’s the same ordinance that Ferndale residents turned down by a 51-49 percent margin in February 2000.
While council members had planned to vote whether or not to implement the ordinance at their meeting, they discovered a city charter provision required them to place it on the ballot. According to the charter, any measure that has been defeated by residents could not be enacted by the council without another vote of the people.
The ordinance’s proponent, City Councilman Craig Covey, said he believed residents would not turn down the measure a second time.
“I’m absolutely confident,” he said. “This is a changed city. Voters here know the gay community has been a positive force in the resurgence of our community. They will vote yes as a way of saying thank you.”
The circumstances surrounding the first try are different than the 2006 effort, he said. The higher priority issues up for decision in November, including who will be the state’s next governor, will draw more voters to the polls than the previous ordinance vote which appeared on a February ballot.
Nicole Lucas, 30, and her husband Ryan Cooper, 32, have lived next door to a lesbian couple on Jewell Street for the past five years.
They plan to join the push to pass the ordinance.
“I think it’s an important fight,” said Lucas. “I have a huge problem with the idea that people who are gay are different.”
Lucas said she looks upon the effort to ban discrimination against gay people as a similar to the battle to enact civil rights legislation in the 1960s to protect African-Americans.
She said she’d be willing to hand out flyers, volunteer at events or put up a yard sign.
Cooper countered the argument that since gay people are welcomed in Ferndale, a law designed to protect them from discrimination wasn’t necessary.
“Maybe it’s not needed in Ferndale, but if it’s okay and accepted, maybe Ferndale should be the city that sets the tone for the entire country,” he said.
Their neighbors, Linda Daly Schneider, 60, and her wife Cathy Schneider, 59, feel the time has come for the ordinance.
“People have truly gotten to know us over the years,” said Linda Daly Schneider. “The more people come out and the neighbors recognize their neighbor is gay, it’s not as big a deal.”
While the couple doesn’t feel the sting of discrimination in the city they made their hometown a decade ago, they still want to see the ordinance in place.
“By not having this protection, it puts us in a position of being second class citizens,” said Cathy Schneider. “If you can’t get your city, your police and your government behind you, it gives those people that are misguided a false sense that their beliefs are correct and that they are entitled to discriminate in any way they choose.”
If voters turn down the ordinance for a second time, she said she would be disappointed but wouldn’t move out of the city.
“We’ll keep doing it over and over again until they get it right,” she said.