Arts & Entertainment
Q&As Clear Up Controversy In RO Ordinance
By Crystal A. Proxmire
Originally printed 10/17/2013 (Issue 2142 - Between The Lines News)
ROYAL OAK - At the most recent Royal Oak City Commission meeting, members of the public spoke on both sides of the Human Rights Ordinance issue. City officials had been discussing the idea of publishing a letter that would answer questions about the ordinance, which is on the ballot for Nov. 5. However, City Attorney David Gillam advised that if they sent a letter it could only have the wording of the ballot proposal in it, not questions and answers.
In lieu of such Q & A, City Commissioner Jim Rasor - also a seasoned lawyer - grilled Gillam about what the ordinance does and does not do. The discussion lasted over ten minutes, and provided some of the most concise facts about the issue from a legal perspective.
Rasor: So is it completely legal in Royal Oak to refuse jobs, housing or public accommodations to gay, lesbian, and bisexual or transgendered citizens?
Gillam: In terms of the current city code there is nothing that prohibits it.
Rasor: And there is nothing at the state or federal level that prohibits it? Is that right?
Gillam: Not to my knowledge.
Rasor: So if I put a sign it front of a rental property and it said, "No gay people allowed to rent here" that would be completely legal.
Gillam: To my knowledge, yes.
Rasor: And if I put a sign in front of my business that said, "No gay people allowed to shop here" would that be completely legal in the City of Royal Oak?
Gillam: To my knowledge, yes.
Rasor: What if I put up a help wanted sign that said, "No gay or lesbian applicants may apply. We don't hire you."
Gillam: Same answer.
Rasor: There's a mention of conciliation panels in this ordinance that I heard talk about in public comment. Could you explain what that means?
Gillam: Well if you are referring to Section A of the proposed ordinance, my intention in preparing the ordinance regarding conciliation agreements, that would be a situation where there was a complaint that was made. There had been an investigation conducted by the police department. There was a determination that there appeared to be enough evidence to go forward with a prosecution on the basis that there had been a violation. And then the conciliation agreement would essentially be a way of resolving or settling the complaint and the citation that would have been issued rising out of the complaint.
Rasor: So that is a way of avoiding criminal action, and instead reaching an agreement?
Gillam: We're talking about - if the ordinance is approved by the voters - we're talking about a civil violation, not a criminal violation. It's a civil infraction.
Rasor: Thank you for correcting me. So instead of a civil infraction, it would just be an agreement.
Gillam: It basically would be a means of resolving the complaint by means of settlement.
Rasor: Does that create some sort of panel that does something? I heard the talk about this panel, this human rights panel.
Gillam: There are communities that have, as opposed to police department accepting the complaints and investigating the complaints and processing, there are other communities that have adopted similar ordinances that have a human rights commission or an appointed committee that accepts the complaints and processes the complaints. That's my only read on it. I think that's what I think people have in mind, but that's not what's proposed in this ordinance.
Rasor: Royal Oak's ordinance doesn't have that?
Gillam: Uh, no.
Rasor: There's no mechanism to create that in the ordinance?
Gillam: Well the ordinance would have to be amended.
Rasor: That would be public hearings, two readings. Everything like that, right?
Gillam: Well actually, Commissioner Poulton in his sidebar tonight brought the issue up. If the ordinance is approved at the ballot in November, if the voters approve it, then any amendments, any changes to the ordinance, would have to go back to the voters. The City Commission wouldn't have the authority to make any changes to the ordinance without the voters' specific approval.
Rasor: Thank you for that. I received a robo-call from one of the public comment speakers today who said that, I'm paraphrasing, that people that think they are the opposite sex can freely use restrooms within the City of Royal Oak and that can't be prohibited. Is that true?
Gillam: This ordinance wouldn't allow that to happen...There's an exception in the ordinance that provides for limiting use of bathrooms, locker rooms, things like that on the basis of gender.
Rasor: So I heard a bunch of people in public comment say things like, "Well if this ordinance passes then men and (boys) that think they are ladies or girls would be able to use these bathrooms. That's not true, is it?
Gillam: I don't think they would be able to do this anymore with this ordinance than they can today.
Rasor: Are there exemptions here for religious organizations in the ordinance that's on the ballot?
Gillam: I believe there are, yes.
Rasor: And what are those?
Gillam: I'm referring to Section 10... [Reading from ordinance] For a religious organization or institution to restrict any of its facilities of housing or accommodations which are operated as a direct part of religious activities to persons of the denomination involved or to restrict employment opportunities for officers, religious instructors and clergy to persons of that denomination. In other words that would be allowed.
Rasor: OK. Looks like there is an exemption for single family and two family dwellings so people that live with people they rent to can continue to discriminate if they want to?
Gillam: [Reading from ordinance] For the owner of an owner-occupied 1-family or 2-family dwelling, or a housing facility or public accommodation facility, respectively, devoted entirely to the housing and accommodation of individuals of one sex, to restrict occupancy and use on the basis of sex.
Rasor: Fair enough. What about government institutions like schools? Is there any exemption for that?
Gillam: Uh, number nine, for educational institutions... [Reading from ordinance] For an educational institution to limit the use of its facilities to those affiliated with such institution.
Rasor: And what about government institutions?
Gillam: Number 13, again this is Section 10...[Reading from ordinance] For a governmental institution to restrict any of its facilities or to restrict employment opportunities based on duly adopted institutional policies that conform to federal and state laws and regulations.
Rasor: What about sporting events and sports teams?
Gillam: Number 14... [Reading from ordinance] To restrict participation in an instructional program, athletic event or on an athletic team on the basis of age or sex.
Rasor: So those are the exemptions and I've heard a lot today in public comment that this ordinance creates special rights. City Attorney, does this ordinance create special rights for anybody? Or does this give civil rights to a group that doesn't have them? I'm curious.
Gillam: I think the intention of the ordinance is to have everyone treated the same.
Rasor: Are you aware, and I ask the City Manager as well, of any of the 29 municipalities in Michigan that have passed human rights ordinances, have any of these things happened that we have heard these horror stories about to your knowledge?
Gillam: I don't know one way or the other. I think some of the communities in the immediate area - that were surveyed to see if they had any violations that were reported after similar types of ordinances were enacted - I'm not aware that there were any complaints.
Rasor: And I've got one more question about this perception issue in the ordinance. How does that work? There's been a lot of talk about that in terms of....actually perceived perception. What does that mean in the ordinance? Could you tell us?
Gillam: The issue is not how an individual perceives themself. The issue is how someone else perceives another individual and then based upon that perception about the other individual takes certain action.
Rasor: Could you give me an example of that?
Gillam: For example, I'll use gender - male and female - just to maybe keep the lines clear. If there is someone who is a male who believes themselves to be a female that perception in and of itself doesn't make any difference under the ordinance. But if on the other hand, if I take certain action, or inaction as the case may be, against that individual based upon my perception of how they may perceive themselves, then I am in violation of the ordinance.
Rasor: So let me ask you this. If I own a place of business and I am an employer, if I refuse to hire someone because I perceive they are of African-American ancestry is that the same thing?
Rasor: Even if they are not?
Gillam: Same thing.
Rasor: Maybe they are a Pacific Islander. So in this ordinance if somebody wouldn't serve somebody because they thought they are gay or lesbian that's what we are talking about?
Gillam: It's not the perception of the person who isn't served. It's the perception of the person who refuses to offer the service.
City Commissioners ultimately voted against sending out a letter, because they were unable to include the Q&A. To learn more about Proposal A and the effort to keep the Human Rights Ordinance in Royal Oak, follow One Royal Oak on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/OneRoyalOak.
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