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The Delta Township community packed an Oct. 21 meeting where attendees filled two overflow rooms. Township leaders voted unanimously to approve a human rights ordinance protecting LGBT citizens. BTL photo: Todd Heywood
Delta Township Becomes Michigan's 29th Protected Community
By Todd A. Heywood
Originally printed 10/24/2013 (Issue 2143 - Between The Lines News)
DELTA TWP. - After months of consideration, hours of testimony and numerous drafts, Delta Township became the 29th municipality in Michigan to enact a comprehensive nondiscrimination law that includes protections for the LGBT community.
"I believe we have the moral obligation to act," said Township Supervisor Kenneth Fletcher just before the vote was cast.
Township leaders voted unanimously - with one Trustee absent - to approve the ordinance Monday night after over an hour of public testimony. The township's meeting room was full to capacity with concerned citizens, as people spilled out into the hallway and two additional meeting rooms to listen to testimony and the final vote.
Over two dozen people spoke about the ordinance prior to its adoption, with supporters asking the township to protect the LGBT community from discrimination, while the opposition argued passage of the law would violate their religious liberties and conscience.
For township resident Cathy Griffin, being a lesbian was "bondage." She claims to have been "freed" of her unwanted "lesbianism."
Greg Vaughn, a resident who home schools his children, said the new ordinance would force him to allow members of the LGBT community to "influence" his children through teaching,
"We're talking about a moral issue," Vaughn told the board. "As a home-schooling parent the law tells me who can influence who we have teaching our kids."
Other residents expressed a concern that without a religious exemption, the law would be used against Christians.
"It has some loopholes that will be exploited," Joe Jackson said. "We would like the right of religious conscience."
MSU mechanical engineering graduate student Chris Clark told the board should the law pass, he would move out of the township. "I don't plan to live here if this passes."
Trustee Doug Fedewa dismissed concerns about religious liberties and calls for an exemption in his prepared remarks prior to the vote.
"I believe we've researched and appropriately answered the principle concerns of constitutionality, freedom of speech and religious freedom," he said. "And this ordinance does not intend nor have unintended consequences which infringe upon these rights and principles."
Despite making the motion to adopt the ordinance, Fedewa expressed frustration with the process - which he called a "rush" - and decried what he observed was a failure of advocates to push LGBT equality protections on a state level.
"In order to protect all Michigan LGBT community citizens, this needs to be enacted on a state level. If a 70 percent plurality of Michigan citizens is supportive of this civil rights protection, I urge One Capital Region and its allies also focus their energies to a statewide solution," Fedewa said. "If you've given up on the legislature amending the Elliot-Larsen Act, I suggest One Capital Region and its allies pursue with equal vigor, a citizen-driven initiated law change through a statewide ballot proposal."
Legislative proposals to amend Michigan's civil rights law, Elliot-Larsen, have languished in the legislature since 1981.
Emily Dievendorf, managing director of Equality Michigan, dismissed Fedewa's call for a ballot move.
"Taking employment discrimination to the voters is an unnecessary use of time and energy when amending Elliott Larsen is an easy change of law that the legislature can make and a change that legislators on both sides of the aisle are currently open to talking about," she said in an email comment to Between The Lines. "Until the Michigan legislature moves we ask that any and all local leaders protect us but we do not once again put the question of our humanity on the ballot. The next time we go to the ballot over human rights it will be to correct the embarrassing mistake made in 2004 and to put in place full marriage equality. Our next visit to the constitution is to make it right again."
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