Group organized on Aug. 4th protesting the petitioners on the corner of 15 Mile and Utica.

Local Residents Sign-On For Right To Discriminate

AJ Trager

STERLING HEIGHTS - The Sterling Heights Non-Discrimination Ordinance that was passed earlier this year in June, to include gender and sexual orientation, could be placed before voters in November.

A group of Sterling Heights residents, who call themselves the Sterling Heights Referendum Petition, have submitted petitions to the Sterling Heights city clerk in hopes of putting the ordinance to a vote. According to City Clerk Mark Carufel, the petitioners must submit a minimum threshold of around 5,900 signatures. If the minimum threshold is not met the petition drive would fail. The petitions were submitted Aug. 6th.

The next step in the process is to have the clerk verify the signatures and determine if the petition circulators met proper criteria before the measure can be placed on the ballot. If enough signatures were not garnered then the group has 15 days to collect more to meet the requirement, Carufel added.

"We'd like the citizens of Sterling Heights to make the decision," Stering Heights resident Fred Kummer said. He believes the ordinance to be too important to leave the decision to just seven city council members.

The group wants to give voice to the entire electorate of the city. Since Aug. 2 they have gathered at the Sterling Heights Public Library and other city spaces in order to get more signatures, specifically targeting areas on Aug. 5th the Michigan Primary election.

"With residents having a strong opinion either way, we felt that the people, not the City Council consisting of seven members, should decide on such a controversial ordinance," member of the group who wrote the petition, Sanaa Elias said.

Elias, like many of her group members of 15-20 activists, believes that the ordinance was pushed through too quickly claiming that "the wording of this ordinance is ambiguous and vague, and threatens to restrict our freedom of speech and religious expression," Elias said.

"We understand that people are gathering signatures. We hope that the city takes a look to see that they are valid signatures. We understand that some people are upset because of the religious exemption that was put into the ordinance at the last minute and we also understand that some people are gathering signatures because they want to be able to discriminate in Sterling Heights," Sommer Foster, the director of political advocacy at Equality Michigan said.

Opponents of the ordinance have questioned the necessity of singling out the LGBT community believing that it could impede some people, such as business owners, from freely practicing their religion but also add that they are a group of concerned residents who "believe that all residents should have equal rights," Elias said.

City Councilman Doug Skrzyniarz has showed support of the ordinance that he helped champion in June. He believes residents seeking to gather signatures have "every right to try and get (the ordinance) on the ballot."

Skrzyniarz was among a group that protested against the petition gatherers and believes while it is the right of the petition gatherers to get it on the ballot it is also his right to oppose their efforts.

"What the petitioners are asking the voters to do is for the voters to say, 'We want to have the ability to discriminate against people for the fact that they're gay or lesbian,'" Skrzyniarz said. "The bottom line is this ordinance makes it illegal in Sterling Heights to fire someone just because they're gay."

Michael Taylor, a council member, also appeared in support of the ordinance on different occasions. "They (the petition gatherers) even disputed that we had a right to be there," Taylor said describing his opposing viewpoints as "good old-fashioned First Amendment."

"We plan to see if some of the signatures can be invalidated, and we will do what we need to do so that the people in Sterling Heights are protected," Foster said. "We're working with Unity and City Council members to see what the next steps are."

The Sterling Heights Referendum Petition's website is currently unavailable.

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