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Politics > Politics and Prejudices

Human rights and Royal Oak

 

Published 2/28/2001

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Think this warm and fuzzy column is occasionally over the top? Well, here’s a look at what some call a really far-out, frightening left-wing proposition:

It is hereby declared to be the policy of the City of Royal Oak … for the maintenance of business and good government, and for the promotion of the city’s trade, commerce and manufacture, to assure equal opportunity to all persons. (Accordingly) No person or persons shall discriminate against any person or persons within the city of Royal Oak, regarding employment, housing, public accommodations or government services.

Huh? That stuff is all guaranteed by federal law, the Constitution, all that stuff, isn’t it? Could the spirochetes finally have reached this columnist’s brain?

Well, speculation on my mental state is always welcome. But, no. Equal rights are never a given and have had to be fought for — from Valley Forge to Selma and beyond.

Two months from now, on May 1, Royal Oak is going to vote on the above ordinance, and before then, the city is more than likely going to be torn apart over this thing, with outside agitators invading the city to spread hate and stir up fear.

Why? Simple: The Human Rights Ordinance not only forbids discrimination by age, color, sex, marital status and disability, but on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Now you have to remember the key word is “orientation.” That doesn’t mean this would sanction fisting at high noon on the lawn of the Shrine of the Little Flower, any more than I get to pinch the female clerks in the Royal Oak Public Library.

What it does mean is you can’t fire, or refuse to hire, someone just because they are gay or straight. And that’s what has stirred up the animals, especially the state branch of the American Family Association, based in Tupelo, Miss., and which is represented here by a specimen named Gary Glenn, who works out of his house in Midland, a town that is mainly a dormitory for Dow Chemical.

Glenn, who has spawned five children and given them names like “Reagan,” “Hunter” and “Heston,” seems especially and eerily obsessed with gays.

“What this would do is establish a protected class status based solely on their claims of engaging in homosexual behavior,” he told me. When I, text in front of me, noted it talks only about “orientation,” he replied that anyone openly gay “does it. It’s the same thing.”

By that logic, all Roman Catholic priests, who are required to be heterosexual, must be energetically fornicating away. Glenn also claimed that the HRO would force religious bookstores to hire practicing homosexuals.

When I noted the truth — that the law says exactly the opposite, and that any nonprofit enterprise run by a religious institution is exempt — he countered that if passed, “they” will undoubtedly repeal that exemption. That was enough dialogue with this creature for me, and I hung up and plunged my cell phone into a vat of Lysol.

Unfortunately, he is reasonably smooth and has mysterious money behind him. Last November, a similar ordinance was on the ballot in Ferndale. Glenn and his haters helped defeat it at the last moment with an expensive mailing claiming, falsely, that it would beggar the taxpayers by forcing them to pay for medical benefits, etc., for the many (thousands? millions?) same-sex partners of city employees.

What lies ahead, win or lose, is bound to be grim. Nobody paid much attention to the Ferndale vote; coverage was drowned out by the Games of the 2000 Presidentiad. But the Royal Oak vote may attract national attention. Picture crowds screaming insults at each other on TV, residents saying nasty and shocking things on TV, hateful lawn signs.

Either way the vote goes, the town suffers. Which is scary, given that the much-ballyhooed downtown revival is shaky and seems to be based largely on coffeeshops and boutiques. If you look closely, there are vacant buildings and failing businesses on even the few bustling blocks of Main and Washington streets.

This won’t help matters. The tragedy is that it all could have been prevented had the city’s elected officials done their jobs. Though the hate-mongers of the American Family Association are poison, they aren’t really to blame.

No, Dennis Cowan, the alleged mayor, and three fellow commission members put their city into this fix when they chickened out before doing the right thing, which would have been to pass the ordinance. Marie Donigan, the commission’s leading voice of sanity, urged this in November. “We all know what a representative democracy is. That’s what we have here. We are the representatives and we pass laws. That’s what I urge you to do.”

That’s what city councils did, by the way, in Grand Rapids and Traverse City, conservative towns, neither of which has become a hotbed of homosex.

Had this been an issue in 1920, she noted, people would have been arguing that if women got equal rights, families would be destroyed. Had this happened in 1965, the battles would have been over ensuring equal rights for different races.

“Heroic people, saints and martyrs, gave their lives for the right to live as free men and women and to just be who they are,” Donigan said. Incidentally, though it shouldn’t matter, she isn’t gay. And she goes to church every Sunday.

And she knows something Glenn, and perhaps some of her fellow commissioners, never will: what it really means to be an American. Royal Oak is about to be invaded by the forces of hate. Let’s hope it has Maries enough to beat them.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for the Metro Times. Send e-mail to letters@metrotimes.com.

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