On Monday December 1st, 2008, the city of Kalamazoo, Michigan, went beyond existing state, and even federal laws, to make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in the housing and employment sectors, but that gay rights ordinance is now under threat. Find out how you can help below!
The LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance was passed by the The Kalamazoo City Commission by 7 – 0 with no opposition. But weeks later a petition from some 1,400 residents, residents that didn’t bother to turn up to the original meeting, forced the commission to freeze the equal protections ordinance in order to salvage it, with either the option of fully repealing the law or taking it to a referendum. The citizens of Kalamazoo now have until March 26th to make their voices heard. To find out how you can help, read on.
What Did The Gay Rights Ordinance Mandate?
The 10 page Kalamazoo ordinance made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexuality or gender identity, adding to the categories already protected such as race, religion and gender, thus protecting LGBT citizens from being discriminated against in the housing and employment sectors.
Further to this, contractors who wish to carry out business within Kalamazoo would now have to submit proof of their adherence to the gay rights ordinance and demonstrate that they have a policy in place which protects LGBT people from discrimination.
Penalty for this civil infraction would be a fine of no more than $500.00.
What The Gay Rights Ordinance Does Not Do
At a meeting on March 9th, Kalamazoo citizens had an opportunity to debate the frozen gay rights ordinance. Opponents decried the measure, saying that it transcended “equal rights” and had moved into the realm of “special rights” for LGBT people.
They, along with the notorious American Family Association, contended that it would, in fact, discriminate against people who believed that homosexuality is wrong. Mary Balkema, who was a former city commissioner, now a treasurer, and one of the main driving forces behind the petition, gave a statement saying the ordinance would “victimize” people with religious beliefs:
“In order for these special rights to be accorded to a certain group, rights must be taken away from other groups who have defined rights under the law and that is discriminatory.”
This is false. The anti-discrimination ordinance gives exemption to churches and religious organizations, and expressly says, “It is also permissible for a religious organization or institution to restrict employment opportunities, housing facilities, or accommodations that are operated as a direct part of religious activities to persons who are members of or who conform to the moral tenets of that religious institution or organization.”
The right to freedom of speech for the religious is upheld, and they can refuse on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment and housing directly linked to the church. One might argue that it is the moral objectors that have “special rights” in this case, but that is an argument for another day.
You can read the full Kalamazoo City anti-discriminatory gay rights ordinance for yourself here.
What You Can Do To Ensure The Gay Rights Ordinance Goes To A Vote
Citizens of Kalamazoo have until Thursday 26th of March to make their opinions felt and their voices heard. This can be done in the following way:
Telephone: Call 552-6089. – A temporary hotline for the Gay Rights ordinance issue
E-mail: Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
U.S. Mail: Kalamazoo City Commission, 241 W. South St., Kalamazoo, MI 49007.
But, I urge all of you who care about LGBT rights, regardless of where you make your home, to email your thoughts and support for what the Kalamazoo City Commission did in introducing the ordinance, asking them to please take the measure to a referendum and to not retire the anti-discrimination ordinance completely.
This was too big a step forward to go back now. It’s within your power to make sure the progress continues. Will you help?