When is it legitimate to discriminate, if ever? Consider the following two issues, the first via the Grand Rapids Press, the second via the Traverse City Record-Eagle. Post your comments below.
GRAND RAPIDS, Sept 15, 2011 — Cathy and Jefferson Seaver are atheists, and they said they liked the Christian preschool in Allendale Township, where they sent their son.
But when they tried to send their daughter there a couple of years later, they hit a snag.
The school required them to sign a statement of faith in God. Feeling it would be a lie, Cathy asked if she could opt out. The administrators said if they didn’t sign, the school would not enroll their daughter.
“That was clear discrimination, and it was very disappointing,” she told an audience Wednesday at the Center for Inquiry Michigan gathering at the Women’s City Club.
The nonreligious group caused a stir last month by buying space on a billboard along northbound U.S. 131 near Hall Street SW with the message: “You don’t need God — to hope, to care, to live, to love.”
BY ART BUKOWSKi
October 5, 2010
TRAVERSE CITY — Mary Van Valin grew emotional as she stood at a podium to address the Traverse City Commission.
Van Valin, a Peninsula Township resident who’s building a house on Webster Street in the city, urged commissioners to pass an ordinance that would outlaw discrimination against gays. Van Valin’s comments lasted less than a minute, but her voice brimmed with passion.
“I have a dream that this community will stand on the side of love, not fear,” she said Monday night.
Van Valin got her wish when the commission unanimously approved the ordinance. The packed commission chambers erupted in applause, tears and hugs when Mayor Chris Bzdok conducted the vote after more than an hour of public comment.
The ordinance, among other things, bans employers from discriminating against or firing employees because of their sexual orientation. It also prohibits landlords and housing facilities from turning away renters based on their sexuality alone.
Religious organizations are exempt from the ordinance, as are residents who rent out rooms in their single-family homes.
The vote brings a measure of closure to an issue that’s been debated for more than a decade in the city, though it’s likely not the final chapter. Opponents of the ordinance plan to circulate petitions and force a special election on the matter.
“We’ve already started; we knew this was going to happen,” city resident and opponent Paul Nepote said of the vote.
The city’s Human Rights Commission drafted the ordinance to “close the gap” in existing civil-rights laws. Federal and state laws provide protection based on religion, race and host of other criteria, but sexuality is left out.
Cities across the state and nation are beginning to introduce local ordinances that address the issue. Traverse City’s new ordinance was patterned after a similar measure adopted last year in Kalamazoo.
A huge crowd gathered Sept. 7 when commissioners introduced the ordinance, and many of the same faces arrived Monday. Proponents said the ordinance will make the city more welcoming and provide necessary protection for gays, but opponents charged that such measure is immoral and isn’t needed.
City resident and business owner Jeff Judway said he was harassed by co-workers and eventually fired from a city business not long after they discovered he’s gay. He warned commissioners against believing the ordinance isn’t needed.
“This ordinance, I need it, we need it … nobody should be fired because of their sexual orientation.”
Gay city resident Jacob Hines, 19, suggested the measure is especially important to young gay people.
“I want to be able to grow up knowing my future is protected,” he said.
Opponent Mike Mulcahy previously told commissioners the measure could create headaches for employers, but seemed to focus his comments on religion this time around.
“There’s a lot of people who are opposed to this ordinance who have a good reason to be opposed to it, they’ve got a view of the planet that includes a higher power,” he said.
Bzdok addressed the complaints he’d heard about the ordinance in recent months, including a charge that it would hurt business owners.
“If there’s evidence out there about a negative impact on business in any of the other Michigan cities that have passed these, I would like to see that … the opponents of this ordinance have brought us no evidence that there’s an actual negative impact on business anywhere that’s done this, and I would argue the places that have done this are thriving,” he said before the vote.
Bzdok also said the city won’t be going on a “witch hunt” to ensure compliance with the ordinance and that the measure does nothing more than assure gay individuals the same rights as everyone else.
Commissioner Jim Carruthers, who is gay, spoke strongly in support of the measure and admonished those who sent the commission “violent, angry, ugly” e-mails on the matter. Such a negative response proves that protection for gay individuals is necessary, he said.
“These to me are all reasons why we need to do this,” he said. “There is so much hate and ignorance out there.”
Commissioner Mike Gillman said he remains “unconvinced” of the need for the ordinance, though he cast his vote in support.
“In the face of a unanimous or near-unanimous vote, I sincerely hope that opponents will drop any plans to initiate a petition drive, an act that would be extremely destructive to the reputation of this community as an open and welcoming town,” he said.
The issue spawned a long-running battle about 10 years ago, and that fight ultimately went before city voters.
Commissioners then passed a watered-down and legally nonbinding anti-discrimination resolution after months of discussion.
Opponents later secured a measure on a city election ballot that sought to prevent the city from passing an anti-discrimination ordinance, but voters soundly defeated that measure in November 2001.
After years of talk and the relatively meaningless anti-discrimination resolution, commissioners were ready for real action.
“It’s time,” commissioner Barbara Budros said.
UPDATE: Opponents to the Traverse City non-discrimination ordinance succeeded in gaining enough signatures to put the ordinance on the ballot this November to the city. A vote of ‘yes’ would keep the ordinance in the books, a vote of ‘no’ would remove it. Read the entire ordinance here.
Post your thoughts on the above issues of discrimination below, and please be respectful in your comments.