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CITY PULSE: City Council Expected to Approve "Gay Rights" Bill

December 13, 2006

“Opponents of the (homosexual and cross-dressing ‘rights’) ordinance hope to turn that legal tight rope into a political noose. The opposition, led by the American Family Association of Michigan, has promised to start a petition drive to put the issue on the Aug. 7, 2007, ballot. Opponents of the ordinance will need to gather 4,371 signatures within 30 days after the ordinance is enacted.

Gary Glenn, president of AFA-Michigan, said his group will help distribute petitions to local churches, a tactic the AFA also used in 2004 in its successful drive to enshrine a gay-marriage ban into the state Constitution. ‘AFA-Michigan will do everything we can to support Lansing residents opposed to this discriminatory ordinance that will violate the privacy rights of women and the religious freedoms of many individuals, churches and community groups, such as the Boy Scouts and Salvation Army,’ Glenn said.


CITY PULSE
Lansing, Michigan – December 13, 2006

Religious questions linger as ordinance vote approaches

City Council expected to approve human rights ordinance Monday
by Thomas P. Morgan

The Lansing City Council has scheduled an extra meeting on Dec. 18 to consider the proposed human rights ordinance, but first it will have to resolve differences with religious leaders over language governing exemptions in the employment of gay people.

Making it more difficult for the Council is that although local religious leaders have concerns over the ordinance, they’re not saying what those qualms are — at least not publicly.

The Council voted Monday night to extend its meeting schedule to allow for the Dec. 18 meeting. Monday’s meeting was supposed to be the last one for 2006.

Leaders from area black and Roman Catholic churches were scheduled to meet with the Lansing City Council’s General Services Committee last Friday, but they skipped out on the meeting when they discovered that the get-together would be open to the public.

Councilwoman Sandy Allen, who chairs the committee, said she was “extremely disappointed” that the religious leaders elected not to attend the meeting.

“I was a little disturbed they didn’t stay and give some input, because that was the purpose for this meeting today,” Allen said.

“The religious community, for whatever reason, has not been real forthcoming,” she said.

The proposed ordinance, which the Council is expected to pass unanimously, would protect gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons from discrimination in housing, employment, public facilities and public accommodations. It would also protect students, veterans and a host of other classes.

Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar, who introduced the ordinance, has already met privately with local religious leaders, including several black pastors. She said the pastors agreed there was a need for an ordinance, but they didn’t want it to clash with their religion beliefs and practices.

Bishop David Maxwell, vice president of the Clergy Forum of Greater Lansing and director of Mayor Virg Bernero’s Office of Faith Based Initiatives, said some of the pastors he represents had concerns over the exemptions portion of the ordinance.

Prior to Friday, the ordinance allowed religious organizations to restrict employment only for officers, religious instructors and clergy. Black pastors wanted a staff exemption as well, so they wouldn’t have to hire a “cross-dresser as a secretary,” or anyone else who would act “contrary to their moral beliefs,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell said last week that “if something cannot be worked out” with the religious community, “you’ll get some strong, strong opposition.”

To help address some of those concerns, the committee drafted new language to exempt churches from having to hire individuals for some jobs who don’t reflect their views.

“It is permissible for a religious organization or institution to restrict employment opportunities, housing facilities or public accommodations that are operated as a direct part of religious activities to persons who conform with the moral tenets of that religious institution or organization,” the latest draft reads.

“The language hues closely to at least what a substantial portion of the representatives from the religious community wanted to see,” City Attorney Brigham Smith said Tuesday.

Perhaps other concerns from churches could have been addressed at Friday’s meeting, but with only Maxwell representing one segment of the religious community, it wasn’t likely that all of the questions were heard. After all, Maxwell said, Lansing’s religious community “is by no means a monolithic society.”

Michigan Catholic Conference spokesman Dave Maluchnik said his group, which serves as the Roman Catholic church’s official mouthpiece in Michigan, has no view on the ordinance. He said it is up to the local diocese to explain its concerns with the ordinance.

“We’re a statewide public policy organization,” Maluchnik said. “If they’re not going to comment, I’ll leave it in their hands.”

Michael Diebold, spokesman for the Diocese of Lansing, did not return phone messages seeking comment.

In a private meeting on Dec. 5 with Smith and mayoral aide Randy Hannan, two representatives of the diocese, attorney Mike Murray and Black Catholic Ministry director Ronald Landfair, presented language they want included in the ordinance. The language says: “This ordinance does not limit the right of an individual or an organization of any kind to speak, write, assemble, act or refrain from acting in accordance with religious belief.”

“It’s not happening,” Dunbar said the next day about the proposed language. “It’s discriminatory.”

The diocesan representatives also presented a list of “what-ifs” at the private meeting. It asks how the scenarios would be affected under the ordinance:

  • A Catholic social services agency has a strong record of placing foster children in permanent homes. However, it will not allow same-sex couple to adopt children.
  • Two boys show up as each other’s date for prom at a Christian high school, and proceed to kiss on the dance floor. A chaperone removes them from the dance, and later tells the boys that their act was contrary to the school’s moral standards.
  • The bus driver for a Baptist church occasionally shows up for work in drag. The pastor of the church tells the driver that he can’t continue to work for the church if he keeps wearing women’s clothing.
  • A man comes in to a church to seek guidance from a ministerial associate. The man asks the associate if he should undergo a sex-change operation. The associate tells him that his body is “a gift of God, and should not be mistreated in this fashion.
  • During a Wednesday night Bible study session, a pastor tells those gathered that “homosexual attraction is not healthy, and homosexual acts are immoral.” The following day, a member of the congregation repeats the pastor’s statement to a co-worker while in earshot of a gay co-worker.
  • A Muslim man who runs a neighborhood print shop refuses to print fliers for a gay pride event. “He explains that he cannot participate in publicizing an event that, in his view, celebrates immorality.”
  • A public high school schedules an event that allows students to come out. The Christian high school down the street decides to hold a counter-event to “openly express the contrary view that homosexual acts are wrong, and that a person can and should regain a heterosexual orientation.
  • A deacon at a Christian church owns several pieces of commercial property. He refuses to rent to a LGBT advocacy group because he believes it serves to “advocate an immoral cause and that their activities are, in the long run, not in the best interests of society.

Dunbar said most of those scenarios have been addressed by the ordinance.

“A lot of people extrapolate all of these irrational what-ifs,” Dunbar said, “when in fact if you read the exemption you would find that a lot of the things that you’re afraid will happen cannot happen.”

Smith said many of the questions brought forward by the religious community present a “very difficult balancing act” between constitutional amendments.

The First Amendment allows for freedom of religion, while the 14th Amendment calls for equal protection under the law.

“When you juxtapose [religious freedoms] against conflicting rights in the 14th Amendment, you’d got some of the most difficult problems that our courts have to deal with,” Smith said.

Smith said many of the questions presented by the Catholic church present a “tightrope.”

“These are deep and difficult questions, precisely because this is a deep and difficult issue,” he said.

Opponents of the ordinance hope to turn that legal tight rope into a political noose. The opposition, led by the American Family Association of Michigan, has promised to start a petition drive to put the issue on the Aug. 7, 2007, ballot. Opponents of the ordinance will need to gather 4,371 signatures within 30 days after the ordinance is enacted.

Gary Glenn, president of AFA-Michigan, said his group will help distribute petitions to local churches, a tactic the AFA also used in 2004 in its successful drive to enshrine a gay-marriage ban into the state Constitution.

“AFA-Michigan will do everything we can to support Lansing residents opposed to this discriminatory ordinance that will violate the privacy rights of women and the religious freedoms of many individuals, churches and community groups, such as the Boy Scouts and Salvation Army,” Glenn said.

“Should the Michigan Family Forum be charged with a crime for refusing to hire a man who engages in homosexual behavior or cross-dressing?” Glenn said. “Should [Citizens for Traditional Values] be charged with a crime for refusing to hire a Wiccan? Or in the reverse, should Michigan Equality or the Lansing Association for Human Rights be charged with a crime for refusing to hire a Muslim jihadist who as a matter of religious conviction believes individuals who engage in homosexual behavior should be beheaded?”

That situation isn’t plausible, Dunbar said. “We have written into the ordinance an exemption that allows flexibility to choose job candidates based on bona fide job qualifications,” she said. “It could be easily argued that a candidate in that situation would have to believe in the mission of the organization as a bona fide job qualification.”

Ultimately, a person or organization’s right to practice one’s religion ends when it adversely affects somebody else, Dunbar said.

“They want to protect individuals in the practice of their faith,” Dunbar said. “I understand that, but the problem arises when individuals engage in discriminatory behavior, which in essence violates another person’s rights.

“And unfortunately, a lot of discrimination historically can be traced back to prejudices that are based in religious beliefs.”


You can read the City Pulse article here.

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