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Posts for March, 2010

VA Gov Issues Non-Reversing “Reversal” on Anti-Discrimination Ban

Jim Burroway

March 11th, 2010

One week after Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) ordered state universities to drop sexual orientation from their nondiscrimination policies, and nearly a month after Gov. Robert F. McDonnell signed an executive order dropping sexual orientation from the state’s anti-discrimination policies, Gov. McDonnell has now reversed his position, but not his executive order.

Gov. McDonnell’s new directive states:

We will not tolerate discrimination based on sexual orientation or any other basis that’s outlawed under state or federal law or the Constitution, and if it is reported, then I will take action, from reprimand to termination, to make sure that does not occur. I believe this properly takes care of it and assures the good people of Virginia that we will absolutely not have discrimination in this state.”

Gov. McDonnell’s executive order last month dropping sexual orientation from the state’s nondiscrimination policies has the effect of law among state employees, including state universities. But Gov. McDonnell’s new directive does not. It merely states the formal position of the governor himself. This gives the Attorney General all the legal maneuvering room he needs to issue this statement “applauding” the governor’s directive:

“I will remain in contact with the Governor and continue to work with him on issues important to Virginians,” Cuccinelli’s statement continued. “I expect Virginia’s state employees to follow all state and federal anti-discrimination laws and will enforce Virginia’s laws to the fullest extent.”

In other words, Cuccinelli recognizes that the governor’s latest statement does not have the force of law, but merely “sets the tone.” As Delegate Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William) said, McDonnell’s directive carries no force and is no more than a “press release with fluff around it.”

There is some speculation that this fig leaf was put in place to try to impress the defense giant Northrop Grumman, which is considering moving its headquarters from Los Angeles to the Washington, D.C. area. Maryland, Virginia and the District are actively competing to win the company’s favor. Northrop Grumman enjoys a 100% rating in the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. Among the many considerations that Northrop is facing is that Maryland’s policies are more in line with the company’s own policies. Says Maryland State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery):

Here in Maryland, we value our gay and lesbian citizens as part of a diverse population that makes the state strong. Virginia is doing the opposite and letting its LGBT citizens — and those considering whether to move and work there — know that they and their families are unwelcome second-class citizens. And they are counting on corporations like yours not to care.

Indeed, while there are efforts in Virginia’s legislature to pass a nonbinding resolution expressing the opinion that Virginia “maintains an ecumenical atmosphere in its sexual orientation hiring policies in the private and public workforce,” that resolution would not have an effect on Virginia’s nondiscrimination law. And even that nonbinding statement, which passed in Virginia’s Senate as part of a package of incentives intended to lure Northrop and other employers, is being stymied in Virginia’s lower House.

Utah’s second largest city may enact employment and housing protections

Timothy Kincaid

March 9th, 2010

Tonight the West Valley City Council will discuss (and likely pass) employment and housing protections for their gay and lesbian residents. (Salt Lake Tribune)

Freshman Mayor Mike Winder urged the council, during a planning retreat in January, to take up the issue in 2010. On Monday, he said, residents have shared with him their experiences of being “evicted or fired” because of their sexual orientations.

“I’m a proud Republican and a proud American,” Winder said. “When I recite the Pledge of Allegiance and say ‘with liberty and justice for all,’ I mean what I say.”

Let’s hope that Winder continues to listen closely, and is joined by many more Christian Republicans who will listen closely to the words they pledge with their hand over their heart.

VA AG Cuccinelli to universities: “you must allow discrimination against gays”

Timothy Kincaid

March 5th, 2010

Several colleges and universities in Virginia have policies against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II has a unique interpretation of law: unless you are specifically instructed by the legislature to avoid discrimination against a group, you cannot voluntarily choose to do so (Washington Post):

“It is my advice that the law and public policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia prohibit a college or university from including ‘sexual orientation,’ ‘gender identity,’ ‘gender expression,’ or like classification as a protected class within its non-discrimination policy absent specific authorization from the General Assembly,” he wrote.

But is this the same as, “you must allow discrimination against gays?” In Virginia, yes.

Currently the political and cultural attitude of this state are extremely hostile to gay residents and visitors. And even in the most encouraging of states, there will be administrators or teachers who believe that their own personal religious beliefs entitle them to mistreat others.

There is no question whatsoever that there will either be deans who make or deny promotions based on sexual orientation, teachers who will assign work that is intended to advance an anti-gay viewpoint, or other school based preferences and punishments that are doled out based on anti-gay animus. It is almost a certainty that administrators will deny housing, funded organizations will deny membership, and fraternal organizations will throw parties with themes that mock gay students.

And this will increase. Because statements like those of Cuccinelli not only give permission for anti-gay discrimination, they encourage such behavior and provide it with the imprimatur of the state. And the educational institutions will be powerless to oppose such actions.

This decision of Cuccinelli does not stand alone.

Last month, newly elected Governor Bob McDonnell (R) signed an executive order that removed non-discrimination policies for gay state employees. He argued, similarly to Cuccinelli, that unless gay folk were specifically protected by the legislature then he had no “authority” to include them.

These arguments are specious. Protections are not always limited to those itemized, but can be (and have been for decades) administered where they were needed.

These acts are not based on principle, but prejudice. I have little hesitation in asserting that McDonnell and Cuccinelli oppose non-discrimination policies against gay people primarily because their sympathies lie with those who wish to to discriminate.

Virginia is a very hostile state, at present. Gay people, and their friends, family, coworkers, and those who love them, should avoid setting foot in the state whenever possible.

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell invites the firing of state employees solely for being gay

Timothy Kincaid

February 18th, 2010

On Tuesday, Mrs. Jones told her pupils, “Hello class, I’ve noticed that you’ve been picking on a few of the children. It must stop, so I will not tolerate any abuse towards Alice, Bobby, or Carlos.”

    On Wednesday, Mrs. Jones said, “Today I have a new rule, different from yesterday’s rule. From now on you cannot abuse Alice or Bobby.”
    Carlos went home that day with a black eye.

Bob McDonnellThe Washington Post is reporting on a change in state hiring policy enacted by new Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell has signed an executive order barring discrimination in the state workforce on grounds that include race, sex, religion and age, but not sexual orientation.

Previous governors included sexual orientation.

There really is no way to translate this action other than that McDonnell believes that sexual orientation, in and of itself, can and should be used as a sole cause for firing state employees or denying promotion. This action by their governor is an open invitation for supervisors or managers to fire or demote employees. And it is likely to happen.

But what is even more likely to occur is abuse, harassment, and antagonizing of gay people. If a coworker calls someone a “damn pervert”, that’s not going to be punished. If the morning meeting is started by a daily f*ggot joke, there’s no recourse. If a state employee shares how they lost the paperwork of the “flaming queen in my line” to gales of laughter, that will not be illegal discrimination. And posting big signs quoting Leviticus or “protecting marriage” will not be an indication of a hostile workplace.

How can there be any respect or consideration, any objection to abuse, if the official state policy is “it’s OK to fire the queers!!”

Albania rejects Marriage Equality

Timothy Kincaid

February 5th, 2010

Last July we reported that Albania, a secular Muslim Balkan nation, was considering legalizing same-sex marriage. The Prime Minister announced his party will propose a law making the change.

Sadly, this did not come to be. However, a law was passed which outlawed discrimination. (PinkNews)

A gay rights law passed in Albania yesterday will outlaw homophobic discrimination but will not allow same-sex marriage.

The law gives protection to citizens against discrimination on grounds of gender, race, colour, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation.

This change, though disappointing, was welcomed. (Reuters)

‘This law is not simply a fulfilment of requirements that Albania has undertaken for European Union integration and visa liberalisation. Above all, it is a victory for democracy and for human rights for all Albanians,’ the LGBT community said. The group hoped that Berisha would eventually keep his promise to legalise same-sex marriage.

Altin Azizaj, who runs the Children Rights Centre and had fought with parliamentarians over the role of a commissioner to monitor the law, said public and, most importantly, private institutions were now bound to respect human rights.

Kalamazoo homeless update

Timothy Kincaid

December 23rd, 2009

kzoo dinnerLast week we informed you of three churches in Kalamazoo who chose to stop participating in an ecumenical effort to care for the homeless due to other participating churches having supported non-discrimination against gay people.

In the spirit of Christmas, the three churches who are disassociating with Martha’s Table delayed their exodus until after the annual Christmas feast, hosted by the United Methodist Church in Edison and First Congregational United Church of Christ in downtown. (Mlive.com)

The two locations combined drew more than 2,000 people.

Joanie Burke, a coordinator of the event at Stockbridge Avenue United Methodist Church, said it is true that more people than ever are in need of a warm meal and new clothes.

There is, however, a feel-good spin to the story.

“The need may be unprecedented, but the upbeat is the amount of donations for this event has increased amazingly … we have so many new toys that were donated, it looks like Santa’s workshop around here,” Burke said.

Burke said more than 150 people volunteered at each location to help serve meals, clear tables, oversee the distribution of clothes and toys “and basically direct traffic through our narrow halls.”

Burke said the meal and distribution of clothes, blankets and toys draws parishioners from more than 15 churches in Southwest Michigan.

While it is sad that three churches have chosen to value their anti-gay animus over their charitable instinct, the good news is that others are stepping in to fill the gap. (WWMT)

The four new members of Martha’s Table, Laney said, are: People’s Church, Unitarian Universalist, in Oshtemo Township; United Campus Ministry/Kalamazoo, a nondenominational service-learning program for higher-education students; Disciples Christian Church, on Winchell Avenue; and Chapel Hill United Methodist Church, on Oakland Drive.

“And several others are leaning toward coming aboard,” said the Rev. Matt Laney, of First Congregational United Church of Christ, whose support of civil rights for gay and transgender people prompted Centerpoint Church, Word for Life Church of God and Agape Christian Church to leave Martha’s Table.

There is no word yet on whether the three disassociating churches plan to start their own charitable effort of if they are so strongly opposed to gay people being able to work and have housing that they’ve given up entirely on caring for the needy.

The churches who stayed in Martha’s Table are:

First Congregational Church of Christ
Third Christian Reformed
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
First Presbyterian Church
First United Methodist Church

Those who left are:

Centerpoint Church
Word for Life Church of God
Agape Christian Church

Those joining are:

People’s Church, Unitarian Universalist
United Campus Ministry/Kalamazoo
Disciples Christian Church
Chapel Hill United Methodist Church

Russian Orthodox leader opposes discrimination

Timothy Kincaid

December 23rd, 2009

PatriarchKirillGay people in Russia are subject to significant discrimination via both social and governmental oppression. Thinking of their country as a “Christian nation”, Russian leaders pride themselves in their opposition to the “satanic” practice of homosexuality.

But an important voice has now spoken out against discrimination. (Ria Novosti)

The Russian Orthodox Church condemns discrimination against sexual minorities, but treats homosexuality as a sin, Patriarch Kirill said on Wednesday.

Meeting with the secretary general of the Council of Europe, a pan-European human rights body, in his office in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in central Moscow, the Russian church leader said: “We respect the person’s free choice, including in sex relations.”

But Kirill said “the religious tradition of almost all nations has treated homosexuality as a sin.”

“Those who commit a sin must not be punished… And we have repeatedly spoken out against discriminating people for their nontraditional sexual orientation,” Patriarch Kirill told Thorbjorn Jagland.

The Russian Orthodox Church is the dominant religion in Russia. And even non-believers defer to her as a cultural voice of the nation.

It would have been greatly surprising had the Patriarch discussed sexual orientation as other than sinful. However, his call against criminalization or discrimination is helpful and encouraging.

But Kirill’s announcement should be seen in a greater context than just the plight of gay Russians. The Orthodox Church, of which Russian Orthodox is a branch, is influential in much of Eastern Europe and even Africa.

For example, the Uganda Orthodox Church, as part of the Uganda Joint Christian Council, is influential in Ugandan politics. And while Russia is a part of Europe, the voice of the Patriarch may be seen less in term of being the “decadent West”.

Elane Photography Follow-up

This commentary is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect those of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin

Timothy Kincaid

December 19th, 2009

canon.jpgIn February 2008, Elane Photography was brought before the New Mexico Human Rights Commission because it refused to photograph the commitment ceremony of Vanessa Willock and her partner. Elane Photography, which consists of Elaine Huguenin and her husband, was found by the commission to have discriminated against Willock on the basis of sexual orientation, and was ordered to pay $6,637 for Willock’s attorney’s fees and costs.

Elane appealed. But this week a District Court Judge upheld that decision.

My sympathies are with Elaine Huguenin. I’ve read the correspondence between the two, and I’ve heard her interviewed. Huguenin is not a hater or a Culture Warrior. She’s just some woman who didn’t feel comfortable photographing an event that clashed with her belief system.

Where some might see Elaine, her views, and her opinions as an enemy that must be vanquished, I just see some woman being forced by the government to work where and when she doesn’t want to work. And I find that deeply troubling.

Some may see a distinction between Elaine, the person, and Elane, the business. But as one who works in the business world, I know that the distinction is only one of form and not of function. Bankruptcy law, tort, insurance, and practicality are such that those who offer their services for a living, even sole practitioners, need to have a corporate structure. People like Elaine Huguenin are, for all practical purposes, indistinguishable from their business and any restrictions placed on their company serve only as restrictions on them individually.

Most readers know that I am not wedded to non-discrimination policies to begin with. While I recognize that they were a valuable tool at breaking through institutionalized bigotries, especially racial bigotries, I am sympathetic to the notion that racists, homophobes, xenophobes, and bigots of all stripes have a right to their own beliefs, however abhorrent I may find them to be. And while I insist that any non-discrimination policies must include my community if they include any affected communities, I wonder if social pressure could not at this time play a stronger and more principled role than governmental coercion.

But whether or not you believe that non-discrimination policies should be in place, surely you’ll agree that this was never what we intended?

Americans cherish individuality above almost all else. And gay people know more than anyone that coercion to conform to the expectations of government is by its nature oppressive and prone to abuse. Surely it has never been our desire to force those who don’t like us to perform like puppets on a string?

The court has spoken. The law was broken. Elane Photography is not entitled to refuse to photograph same-sex commitment ceremonies.

And that is a tragedy.

I believe it is time for New Mexico to change its law. A decent and reasonable compromise would be to follow the lead of many other states – and, indeed, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – the exceptions for for employment and limit the non-discrimination requirements to businesses with 15 or more employees.

Let Elane Photography limit its services to only heterosexual weddings, or only Catholic Weddings, or only weddings between persons of the same race. This is no hardship on us. Elaine Huguenin is not solely responsible for our happiness. Even in Albuquerque there are plenty of other choices.

And ultimately what kind of freedom will we have won to live our lives as we see best if it costs the freedom of others to do the same?

Ft. Worth Adds Transgenders to Non-Discrimination Ordinance

Jim Burroway

November 11th, 2009

RAINBOW_1_11-11-2009_Tarrant_JL104DQK.standalone.prod_affiliate.58

Ft. Worth City Council last night expanded the city’s non-discrimination ordinance to include transgender people by a 6-3 vote. City council also discussed a broader range of issues important to the LGBT community, including offering domestic-partner benefits and expanding the city health insurance plan to cover gender reassignment procedures, including sex changes. Discussions were contentious, both inside the packed hall and outside, where protesters from both sides had gathered. The Dallas Voice reports:

There were no arrests or major physical altercations, but there was plenty of taunting and some heated verbal exchanges. Participants from both sides later accused the other of elbowing and pushing, and one of the counterprotesters admitted to ripping a gay Pride flag.

LDS Church Supports Salt Lake LGBT Protections

Jim Burroway

November 11th, 2009

 Yes, you read that right:

Hours after the LDS Church announced its support Tuesday night of proposed Salt Lake City ordinances aimed at protecting gay and transgender residents from discrimination in housing and employment, the City Council unanimously approved the measures.

“The church supports these ordinances,” spokesman Michael Otterson told the council, “because they are fair and reasonable and do not do violence to the institution of marriage.”

The Mormon church has come under withering criticism over its overwhelming support in passing California’s Proposition 8, which stripped LGBT couples in that state the right to marry. The LDS’s massive efforts have led some to dub Prop 8 “The Mormon Amendment.” In addition to overall criticism, that campaign also proved to be highly divisive within the church itself.

Last year in the wake of that criticism, LDS leaders said that they had no problem with non-marriage related protections for LGBT people. In August 2008, the church issued a statement titled “The Divine Institution of Marriage” in which church leaders claimed to support “rights regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights.” That spawned the “Common Ground” initiative, which consisted of a set of LGBT protections based on the LDS statement. But the LDS church turned around and blocked every single proposal in the state legislature which they had earlier said they could support.

LGBT leaders in Salt Lake City hail last night’s vote as a historic step, and the result of several months of quiet, behind-the-scenes meetings with church leaders. But noting that four-fifths of Utah’s LGBT citizens live outside the city, they vow to reintroduce the Common Ground proposals in the state legislature again this year.

Why the sudden turnaround after the Common Ground initiative failed to even make it out of committee in the state legislature last year? There are a couple of possibilities. First, Salt Lake City is not a Mormon bastion as the rest of the state is. Many former LDS people who wrote in to BTB this morning believe that this ordinance would have passed without LDS support. After all, this is the same city that has already instituted a domestic partnership registry. So by coming out in support of this ordinance, the reasoning goes, the church is able to turn what would have been seen as a defeat into positive publicity.

Meanwhile, others speculate that Senate Majority Leader Harry Ried (D-NV) and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, both Mormons, may have played a hand. At any rate, the real test will be when the Common Ground initiative is brought back to the state legislature again next year.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the ordinances passed last night would:

  • Forbid housing and employment discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity in Salt Lake City.
  • Exempt religious organizations, businesses with fewer than 15 employees and some small landlords. (The exemptions mirror those in state and federal laws.)
  • “Not create any special rights or privileges,” the ordinances state, because “every person has a sexual orientation and a gender identity.”
  • Create a complaint and investigation process. The complaint could be resolved through mediation or a fine of up to $1,000.
  • Not create a “private right of action” to sue over alleged discrimination.
  • Require annual reports by the city’s Human Rights Commission on the effectiveness of the statutes.

Kalamazoo Claims Victory

Jim Burroway

November 3rd, 2009

One Kalamazoo, which has been facing a bruising election fight to retain that city’s anti-discrimination ordinance against a blistering attack by the religious right, is claiming victory (no link yet):

With only absentee ballots outstanding, 65 percent of Kalamazoo voters have approved Ordinance 1856 by a vote of 6,463 to 3,527, adding protections for gay and transgender people to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance. This margin is larger than the number of outstanding absentee ballots that are currently being counted.

Kalamazoo Episcopalians Step Up

Timothy Kincaid

November 3rd, 2009

episcopalToo often I am frustrated by Christendom turning over its name, image, and perceived doctrine over to the most conservative of its sects.

We all know that the faith encompasses a broad range of views ranging from devotion to literal translations of specific texts to general application of spiritual principles, from rigid conservative lifestyles to social religion, from a faith of love for all to a faith of hatred toward others. Yet when it comes to matters of social policy, especially that which involves the rights of gay folks, it seemed that the only Christian perspective presented for a long time was that of rejection, oppression, and condemnation.

But in recent years that appears to be changing. Mainline Christians are beginning to stand up and say that anti-gay activism is not a part of their belief structure and that, indeed, their faith demands that they treat gay people the way they want to be treated.

We have seen that with the United Church of Christ commercials (that were deemed too “controversial” for network television). We have seen it in the large number of diverse churches lending their name to oppose Proposition 8. We have increasingly seen it in local debates and discussions around the nation in which the neighborhood Methodist or Lutheran pastor shows up to balance out the anti-gay pastor who is trying to act as the spokesman for God.

And now we see it in the Episcopalians in Kalamazoo, MI. When the local Catholic Bishop endorsed keeping discrimination legal in the city, they knew they had to do something. So they raised the money and ran a full page color ad in the Kalamazoo Gazette on Sunday.

Check it out on the Towleroad site, here.

I especially like the message that the Kalamazoo Episcopalians sent to their neighbors: that they do not support gays in spite of their faith but because of it.

As Christians we believe that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is wrong. The Episcopal Church has taken a strong stand against discrimination of all kinds including discrimination against our gay and transgender sisters and brothers.

So Christians in Kalamazoo, go vote yes on Ordinance 1856. Not only because its the right thing to do, but because it is the Christian thing to do as well.

The Push Is On For Equality

Jim Burroway

October 28th, 2009

We are just one week away from a very important election in three states. We are hearing that the National Organization for Marriage is making last-minute dumps of huge amounts of cash in Washington and Maine, while Kalamazoo, Michigan is facing a tremendous onslaught of misleading ads against their non-discrimination ordinance, which is also up for a vote. Not only can you contribute, but you can help out with phone banking — right from your own home or wherever you happen to be. The following message from the Courage Campaign is being carried by LGBT bloggers nationwide, including Box Turtle Bulletin. Please do what you can today and in the coming days to ensure that on November 3, there will be no regrets.

Washington:
Who we are: Approve Referendum 71 is the campaign to preserve domestic partnerships in Washington State. By voting to approve, voters retain the domestic partnership laws that were passed during this year’s legislative session, including using sick leave to care for a partner, adoption rights, insurance rights, and more.

What we need: We need phone bankers to get our supporters out to vote. Washington is an all mail-in ballot state, and we need to ensure our supporters put their ballots in the mail. Also, youth turnout is a critical component of our campaign, and youth turnout historically drops in off-year elections. So we need a lot of help to turn them out.

How you do it: Sign up here to make remote calls for Approve 71. We’ll then contact you for a training, and you can make GOTV calls.

Maine:
Who we are:
The No On 1/Protect Maine Equality campaign is working to protect Maine’s recently-passed law legalizing marriage equality for same-sex couples. Our opponents have put the issue on the ballot for Nov 3, 2009. Because of Maine’s early voting election laws, people are already voting at the polls, so we need help immediately to turn out our side at the polls.

What we need: We need you to devote a few hours to Call for Equality. Call for Equality is a virtual phonebank set up so that you can call Maine voters wherever you are. Much of Maine is rural, where canvassing isn’t effective, so we need to reach these voters- along with other supporters- by phone. All you need is a phone and internet connection. No experience required! We’ll provide the training, and all you need is a a few hours to help get a win in Maine.

How you do it: Click here to sign up for a training and your shift. There are lots of times available for your convenience.

Goal ThermometerKalamazoo, MI:
Who We Are: The Yes on Ordinance 1856 / One Kalamazoo campaign is working in Michigan to support the City Commission of Kalamazoo’s twice approved ordinance for housing, employment, and public accommodation protections for gay and transgender residents. Opponents forced a public referendum on the ordinance so dedicated local volunteers, led by former Stonewall Democrats Executive Director Jon Hoadley, are working to ensure voters say YES to fairness and equality and keep Ordinance 1856.

Why The Urgency: In the final weeks, the opposition has gone all out with aggressive disinformation and misleading red herrings to try to defeat the ordinance. This includes signs that say “No to Discrimination” (even though voting No actually supports continued discrimination of GLBT residents), transphobic door hangers and fliers, and now radio ads that falsely suggest that criminal behavior will become legal when this simply isn’t true. The Yes on Ordinance 1856 supporters are better organized but many voters who want to vote for gay and transgender people are getting confused by the opposition.

How To Help:
1) Help the One Kalamazoo campaign raise a final $10,000 specifically dedicated to fight back against the lies on the local TV and radio airwaves and fully fund the campaign’s final field and GOTV efforts.

Give here: http://www.actblue.com/page/3-2-1-countdown

2) If you live nearby and can physically volunteer in Kalamazoo sign up here. If you know anyone that lives in Kalamazoo, use the One Kalamazoo campaign’s online canvass tool to remind those voters that they need to vote on November 3rd and vote YES on Ordinance 1856 to support equality for gay and transgender people.

Contact voters: http://www.onekalamazoo.com/tellfriends2

Lots of Interest in What the Bible Says in Kalamazoo

Timothy Kincaid

September 29th, 2009

bibleforum LOC-1.jpg

On November 3, Kalamazoo residents will vote on whether to ban discrimination against LGBT residents. On June 8, the city council unanimously passed an ordinance banning discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation for employment, housing and access to public accommodations. Anti-gay activists collected enough signatures to force a vote of the populace.

Republican activists Lorence and Nancy Wenke decided that residents needed to know just what the Bible had to say about homosexuality. Lorence Wenke is a former Republican Michigan House member who is running for the state Senate in 2010.

So the Wenkes sponsored a forum with ministers discussing scripture. But you probably have made some false assumptions about Wenke’s motivation. (Mlive.com)

“The more that you talk about this issue and the more you get to know families struggling with this issue, the more you know the Bible doesn’t condemn them,” Wenke said.

So Wenke’s forum was not limited to anti-gay messages. Rather, he presented three ministers who find scripture to condemn homosexuality and three that do not.

“It’s only .002 percent of the entire Bible, an incredibly small slice,” Laney said. “Sexual orientation is not a choice; it’s not a disorder. It’s part of God’s diverse creation.”

The Rev. Dr. Douglas Vernon, senior pastor of Kalamazoo’s First United Methodist Church, agreed, saying the Bible may be taken “very seriously” but not always literally.

“We believe there is no one right way to interpret Scripture,” Vernon said.

The Rev. John Byl, pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church, and the Rev. Dr. Paul Naumann, of St. Michael Lutheran Church, disagreed, saying the literal words are relevant and timeless.

But the most interesting thing about the forum is that it drew a lot of interest. Close to 800 people showed up.

The large turnout surprised Lorence Wenke, who said he was expecting about 300 people.

Wenke figures he’ll lose some conservative votes because of his sponsorship. But at least he’ll know that he was a good citizen, a good neighbor, and a valued ally.

Ohio House Passes Non-Discrimination Bill

Jim Burroway

September 15th, 2009

Five years after Ohio voters passed one of the most draconian anti-marriage constitutional amendments in the nation, the Ohio House of Representatives passed the Equal Housing and Employment Act by a vote of 56-38. Four Republicans voted for the measure, and no Democrats voted against (one did not vote however). This fully inclusive bill marks the first time a pro-LGBT bill has passed either house of the General Assembly.  The Senate is firmly in Republican hands, making the bill’s prognosis uncertain.

It’s Not Okay To Fire People Just For Being Gay

Jim Burroway

March 24th, 2009

So say the voters in Gainesville, Florida. The proposed city charter amendment which would have legalized firing gay people or denying them housing has gone down in flames. A defeat of 42% to 58% for Amendment 1 is pretty resounding and satisfying.

Gainseville, Florida to Legalize Discrimination?

Jim Burroway

February 24th, 2009

We’ve followed dozens of measures around the country to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. But never before not since Colorado’s Amendment 2 (which was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1996) have we seen a ballot measure which would actually legalize discrimination:

…a city charter amendment has been drafted by a Michigan group that would take away Gainesville’s local power to establish our own equal opportunity laws.

There has been a false fear-based campaign to cloak the true impact of this amendment that would damage people’s lives and diminish our community.

This amendment, if passed, would prohibit Gainesville from providing antidiscrimination protections not included in specific statutes of Florida law. This charter amendment would make it perfectly legal to fire someone or deny housing just because of sexual orientation or gender identity, since these protections are not in county, state or federal law. It would also be impossible for Gainesville to add protections for political affiliation or economic status.

The proposed charter amendment is in reaction to the passage of the 2008 Gender Identity Ordinance, which added a prohibition on discrimination based on gender identity or expression.

Update: Okay, I wrote this way too late last night. There have been plenty of instances where voters have decided to discriminate where discrimination had been outlawed previously. Our commenters are counting the ways. Go ahead and add your example to the list.

[Hat tip: Dan Savage]

Calling Mormon’s Bluff

Jim Burroway

February 3rd, 2009

Last week, a Utah Senate committee killed a bill allowing individuals who rely on a breadwinner to sue for wrongful death. The vote to kill the measure was on a strict LDS-membership vote. Equality Utah isn’t taking that set back lying down.

Over the weekend EQ UT began a billboard, radio and newspaper ad campaign reminding Utah legislators of the LDS statement that there is “common ground” on some rights for same-sex couples short of marriage. The newspaper ads appeared in The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret New. Equality Utah’s Common Ground initiative seized on the LDS statement and proposed five specific bills for the Utah legislature’s consideration:

  1. Domestic partnership benefits for state employees
  2. Fair housing and employment provisions
  3. Right to sue for wrongful deaths — the bill that was defeated last week
  4. Domestic partner registry with attached rights of inheritance, insurance, and fair housing
  5. a popular vote to modify Amendment 3, which bans same sex marriage and civil unions. Voters would be asked to modify the amendment to allow civil unions.

Kalamazoo City Council Rescinds Anti-Discrimination Ordinance, Vows To Try Again In February

Jim Burroway

January 13th, 2009

We were very excited last month to learn that the Kalamazoo, Michigan, city commission voted unanimously to expand their anti-discrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation. But right away, the American Family Association of Michigan responded by announcing an effort to repeal the entire ordinance.

Well, last night after the AFA Michigan submitted petitions with 1,600 signatures, the commission voted 7-0 to rescind the law rather than have it go before the voters. Commissioner Stephanie Minor said, “We knew it would be rescinded on the basis that we were going to come back, reconvene, look at the ordinance and strengthen it, clarify it, and bring it back before the commission to bring it back.” The commission hopes to have a retooled ordinance back for a vote in February. Stay tuned.

AFA Michigan Fights Kalamazoo Anti-Discrimination Ordinance

Jim Burroway

January 5th, 2009

Last month, we were happy to note that the city council of Kalamazoo, Michigan, voted to adopt an expanded anti-discrimination ordinance that makes it a municipal civil infraction to discriminate against gays, lesbians and transgender citizens. Now we learn that the anti-gay minions of the American Family Association of Michigan are working to overturn the ordinance:

City Clerk Scott Borling said former city commissioner and current Kalamazoo County Treasurer Mary Balkema officially turned over 189 pages of petitions that circulators said contained about 1,600 signatures to overturn the ordinance. …Under the charter, if sufficient signatures are certified next week, the ordinance is immediately suspended and the Kalamazoo City Commission must either repeal the entire ordinance or put it on the ballot for city voters to decide.

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