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LANSING – As expected the Lansing City Council voted unanimously to approve a comprehensive human rights ordinance Monday night, then voted to make the ordinance effective immediately.
The ordinance, introduced in October, is the first comprehensive human rights ordinance on Lansing books since 1996, when a similar law was repealed by voters. It covers discrimination in housing and employment for a variety of categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity.
“I am proud to be here at this historic moment in Lansing history,” Mayor Virg Bernero said in his comment at the beginning of the meeting. “The human rights ordinance casts a wide net, assuring the rights promised by the constitution are protected.”
The law has an exemption for religious organizations which allows them to discriminate in hiring, housing and public accommodations to those who do not adhere to their moral values.
The ordinance also has an expansion of the definition of family that includes recognizing a pregnant woman as a family, as well as traditional nuclear families, extended families, and adoptive or foster families. It also includes a definition for a functional family which would be any two or more people living together and sharing expenses for a dwelling for the foreseeable future.
City Attorney Brigham Smith says the Functional Family definition would include room mates, longtime partners and other situations.
The vote came after nearly two hours of emotional public testimony at a special regular meeting of the Lansing City Council. Once the ordinance was introduced, an amendment of minor, technical changes was proposed and accepted.
Not everyone was in support of the ordinance.
“You all are an abomination to the Lord,” said Bernie Meisner, the man who spearheaded the 1996 repeal, told the council.
“It will have an impact, but not the doomsday impact,” Sean Niven, a recently arrived resident of Lansing, told the council.
During debate and discussion on the ordinance, council members took the opportunity to express their support for the ordinance as well.
“Everyone is aware that I voted against a similar ordinance in 1996,” Councilmember Sandy Allen said. Allen, along with Joan Bauer and Harold Leeman are the only council members who were serving in 1996. “I am happy to support this one. My only problem with it is that it is still necessary.”
“It may not be perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Councilmember Randy Williams said.
Meisner has vowed to do appeal the ordinance. Under the Lansing City Charter, he will have 30 days from Dec. 18 to collect 4,368 signatures of registered voters in the city to put the measure to a vote. In the event he fails to gather the signatures in the allotted time, the charter allows for a 10-day extension for petitioners to attempt to collect the remaining necessary signatures.
In the event the opposition is unable to collect the necessary signatures in the 30-day time frame, they could possible launch a ballot initiative to repeal the ordinance.
Following the vote, Bernero told the council, “I couldn’t be prouder of this council…. Lansing is a bright shining light for all the right reasons tonight. For our commitment to diversity, fairness and justice.”