By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
WARREN – On Jan. 23, the Detroit News reported that a gay couple has been refused family membership by the Warren Community Center.
Mark Jeason and his partner, Martin Murdick, have been together for nearly 18 years, according to the report. However, the Warren Community Center defines the term “family” for purposes of membership as a married man and woman and their children. Jeason and Murdick are living with and caring for Murdick’s disabled mother.
As a result of the discrimination against their family, Jeason and Murdick are considering moving out of Warren, according to the report. The couple have lived and paid taxes in the city for fourteen years, according to Murdick.
“I don’t count as a citizen of Warren,” Jeason is quoted as saying.
“Warren must step up to the plate and honor gay and lesbian families,” said Sean Kosofsky, policy director of the Triangle Foundation. “As taxpayers that contribute to the wellbeing of the city, our families should be allowed to access family memberships at the recreation center.”
Murdick told BTL that he wanted the family membership to give his mother more recreational opportunities.
After going in on Martin Luther King Day to apply, “I was told in no uncertain terms that the city of Warren doesn’t consider us a family,” he said.
Murdick noted that the Community Center’s current policy also discriminates against unmarried heterosexual couples regardless of whether they have children.
“Warren claims they’re following state law, and that’s what bothers me,” Murdick said. “I think Warren’s using that as an excuse to cover up discrimination.”
On Jan. 24, Kosofsky and Kevin McAlpine, Triangle’s director of development, attended the Warren City Council meeting hoping to address the issue during the public comment session. However, according to Kosofsky, the meeting was to run until 2 a.m., with public comment scheduled at the very end. The community center’s family policy was not on the council’s agenda for the Jan. 24 meeting.
McAlpine, a Warren resident, needed to leave at midnight.
“I think the way to deal with this is to go through the Mayor’s office,” McAlpine said, adding that it is the Mayor’s office that sets community center policy.
McAlpine said that he has researched the membership policies of comparably sized community centers. “Warren is the only community that we’ve found with a community center that sells memberships that specifically has created their own definition of ‘family’ as husband, wife and kids,” he said. Other comparable community centers, according to McAlpine, “have varying degrees of policies that recognize family rates or couple rates as people that live at the same address, or they recognize domestic partners, or gay and lesbian couples.”