Petition blocks human rights ordinance

Commission must decide to place law on ballot or rescind it

By: Robert Guttersohn | Royal Oak Review | Published April 3, 2013

The newly approved human rights ordinance has been blocked.

City Clerk Melanie Halas said April 3 that resident Fred Birchard had collected more than enough certified petition signatures to block the law from going into effect.

The law again will be placed on the City Commission’s agenda for the April 15 meeting. It will then decide to rescind the law or place it on the November ballot.

“I would guess that we will vote to put it on the ballot,” said Mayor Jim Ellison, a supporter of the ordinance.

The ordinance was to prohibit “discrimination based upon actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, height, weight, condition of pregnancy, martial status, physical or mental limitation, source of income, family responsibilities, sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status.”

It was to go into effect March 14, but Birchard, 75, and other supporters collected more than the 100 signatures required to become eligible for a petition period and temporarily block the ordinance. Since then, he had collected 1,226 signatures, Birchard said. The city clerk certified 746 of them, the required amount to permanently block the measure.

Birchard has said he opposes the bulk of the ordinance, but most specifically the portion dealing with sexual orientation. He has maintained a strong stance against homosexuality.

“Well, I wish I didn’t have to do it, but my inner being says what’s right and what’s wrong,” Birchard said of blocking the ordinance.

The ordinance will now be placed on the November ballot. 

In 2001, voters denied a similar ordinance with a 67.36-percent majority after the City Commission at that time did not make a decision on its own.

Birchard led the effort in 2001 for voters to reject the law. While he doesn’t plan to be at the forefront again, if the ordinance is placed on the ballot, he said he will still be involved in the political fight.

“We’ve got about 50 people that helped and someone will come from that,” he said.

Birchard said he is confident Royal Oak voters will reject the ordinance again.

“I don’t think it will be 68 to 32 percent again, but we should win,” Birchard said.

Ellison said he wasn’t surprised that Birchard collected the required number of signatures.

“I wish we didn’t have to go through this process,” he said.

Ellison voted for the ordinance in March and was a supporter of the ordinance on the 2001 ballot. He remembered how nasty both sides of the campaign were against one another.

“It’s going to be a nasty campaign,” Ellison predicted. “There’s going to be a lot of outside influence.”

Despite the fact that the similar ordinance lost 12 years ago, Ellison thinks the voters will support it this time.

“I think (public opinion) has changed dramatically since that time,” Ellison said. “I know people who voted it down who are strong supporters now.”