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Lansing City Council says no to proposed bill that would erode gay rights

In a unanimous vote of the Lansing City Council Monday night, council members passed a resolution opposing HB 5039 and urging the state legislature to vote against the bill.

The legislation would strip the various local non-discrimination laws in the state of any protected category not included in the state’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The legislation was introduced by State Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills).

The resolution was introduced by Kathie Dunbar, a member-at-large of the council. She led the battle to pass a comprehensive human rights ordinance in the city in 2006 — a decade after city residents rejected a similar law in a contentious vote.

“This is seeking to overstep our ability to protect the rights of our LGBT residents,” said Dunbar. “We worked too hard to pass this in 2006 to go backwards.”

Critics of the law say it would interfere with the state constitution’s home rule clause, which allows localities to “adopt resolutions and ordinances relating to its municipal concerns.” But McMillin told Messenger last week that this was about eliminating “a patchwork” of local laws.

“I think it is good and correct public policy for the subdivisions of the state to keep the same definition of what constitutes civil rights protections, as the state does. That’s what HB5039 simply says,” McMillin says. “Liberals wanting to add additional protections based on one’s sexual activity are at least going about it the right way, they recently announced an effort to change the Elliot-Larsen Act. That’s where the debate belongs, at the state level. I don’t believe it is good to have municipalities trying to amend the Elliot-Larsen Act in kind of a backdoor manner. Having a patchwork of different definitions of who has the extra civil rights protections, depending on which side of a road you live or work on (different municipalities) doesn’t make sense.”

For openly gay Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope, the legislation is in opposition to what voters want for the state.

“I think it’s a slap,” Swope said. “He has a long history of homophobia, and he is trying to use the current control of his party on the legislature to push a social agenda voters don’t want.”

Derrick Quinney, a council member at-large, said he would not be opposed to suing to prevent the legislation from being implemented.

“I don’t know what the ramifications would if they pass that, but I’m certainly not opposed to [suing],” Quinney said after the meeting.

Dunbar and Lansing City Councilmember-at-large Brian Jeffries both said they would support reviewing possible legal action to stop implementation of the legislation if it becomes law.

Lansing is not the only mid-Michigan municipality to pass a resolution condemning McMillin’s bill. East Lansing City Council passed a resolution opposing 5039 and a second resolution opposing legislation from Rep. Dave Agema (R-Grandville) that would prohibit public employers from offering health benefits to unmarried partners of public employees.

“I would support exploring a legal challenge in cooperation with other impacted municipalities,” said Nathan Triplett, an East Lansing City Councilmember who authored the resolutions, which also passed unanimously. “This legislation (5039) is a gross intrusion into local control that raises serious constitutional questions.”

The Lansing City Council vote was praised by Equality Michigan, calling the legislation an “offensive attempt to solidify the vulnerability of Michigan’s gay community.”

“State legislators have the power to do more. Our Michigan House of Representatives can stop the legislation and bring the focus back to creating policy that will attract and retain skilled workers instead of supporting legislation that repels the best and the brightest. Rep. McMillin is wasting taxpayers’ time and money on furthering his out of touch personal agenda. He doesn’t represent his constituents or general public sentiment,” said Emily Dievendorf, policy director for Equality Michigan.

“Michigan municipalities, school systems, and universities are making an effort to implement comprehensive non-discrimination policies for good reason,” she said. “Polling has shown that fairness is a Michigan value — a value that is good for the stability of Michigan families and great for Michigan’s bottom line.”

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