Unity Michigan team delivers 2,397 signed petitions asking the Royal Oak City Commission to pass a human rights ordinance, which it did with a 6-1 vote. BTL photo: Crystal Proxmire

Royal Oak City Commission Approves Human Rights Ordinance

By Crystal A. Proxmire

Readers wishing to thank the Royal Oak Commissioners can do so here

The Royal Oak City Commission voted 6-1 Monday to approve an inclusive non-discrimination ordinance, making it the 22nd municipality in Michigan to do so. The ordinance makes it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation and a number of other factors, in housing, employment and public accommodations. It also gives the Royal Oak Police the responsibility of investigating any complaints that may arise.

Commissioner Dave Poulton was the lone dissenter, referring to a public vote that failed 12 years ago and citing Rochester Hills as another city that has rejected the idea. He also questioned why someone's military service was not included as one of the groups protected. "I would have preferred that this go to the voters," he said, before casting the lone "no" vote.

There was nearly an hour and a half's worth of commentary from citizens, the majority of which were in favor of the ordinance. Among those who opposed it was Pat Wall, who brought graphic illustrations of what she thinks sodomy does to the body. She also said that homosexuals are a "special interest" and that other groups deserve protection from discrimination too, like sex offenders.

But for every naysayer there were multiple citizens in favor of the ordinance. Resident Frank Houston, who is in a bi-racial marriage, put the issue into historical context. "For me it hits home because I think about the fact that a little over 60 years ago when my grandparents were getting married, there were a lot of family members concerned that a Roman Catholic and a Lutheran person coming together. I look at my wife and I, a couple that a little over a generation ago we wouldn't be able to get married in a lot of places, let alone have protections against discrimination. And I think that when we look at some of the concerns that have been raised, legitimate concerns about enforcement, costs, and how we go about it, these are things that we owe it to work through," Houston said, "This isn't just a symbolic statement. This is about equal protection under the law, and you have it in your power to guarantee that to everyone in Royal Oak today."

Jared Volz of Unity Michigan represented the voices of people and organizations statewide on the subject. "We work as a coalition to advance nondiscrimination policies statewide to make Michigan an attractive place to live, work and play," Volz said. He and an assistant revealed a stack of paper with 2,397 sheets - each one representing someone who had signed the group's online petition in favor of Royal Oak's adoption of the ordinance. "I want you guys to see what is happening across the state of Michigan. I don't know how many other issues the City of Royal Oak looks at that garners this kind of statewide attention."

Commissioner Jim Rasor explained why he introduced the ordinance and what some of his rationale is. "As a representative democracy, we want to hear what you think because our job is to pass legislation which is appropriate for this community, and that's what we're doing here today. This is the right place and the right time to do this for the community of Royal Oak," he said.

"This is an economic development tool. This is a best practice among cities. This is a best practice among Fortune 500 (companies). This is the right thing to do just purely on the basis of remaining competitive - competitive for labor. Competitive for people who want to come and live here. Competitive for young college students who want to feel comfortable in their community in which they live. ... More than that, this is an affirmation of our basic principles of equal protection of all of us.

"This doesn't allow gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to move to the front of the line, it allows them to be in the same line as everyone else and that' just fundamental fairness."

The ordinance takes effect this month and makes it illegal to discriminate based on 16 factors, including sexual orientation, age, height, weight, condition of pregnancy, gender identity and HIV status. Violations will be a civil infraction punishable by a fine up to $500.

Royal Oak joins 21 other cities, including Ferndale, Dearborn Heights, Huntington Woods, Mt. Pleasant, Muskegon, Saginaw and Traverse City. Unity Michigan, a coalition of six member organizations that provides resources for communities that are considering human rights, or nondiscrimination, ordinances. Learn more at their website http://www.unitymichigan.org/.}

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