Petitioners seek to put human rights ordinance on ballot
March 15, 2013
Although the City Commission passed a new human rights ordinance earlier this month, just 10 days passed before some residents officially enacted a petition to repeal it and put the measure on a future ballot.
Resident Fred Birchard, 75, is the primary petitioner, and he gathered about 15 others in a door-to-door effort to collect 200 signatures when only 100 were required to become eligible for a petition period. Birchard and his group now have 20 days, until April 4, to collect 746 signatures. The 746 signatures represent 10 percent of local voters in the last election. He will also need to re-collect the original 200 signatures.
“The problem is the voters should have a say,” Birchard said. “I’m 75 years old and I’m too old for this crap.”
Birchard disagrees with the bulk of the ordinance itself, as well. Effective March 14, the day the petition process began, the ordinance “prohibits 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.”
“I oppose any kind of homosexual behavior,” Birchard said. “Most of it’s stupid. All this is, is a radical homosexual agenda. The rest of it is just to make people feel good.”
City Commissioner Jim Rasor gathered with about 30 people on the steps of the Royal Oak Post Office March 14 to urge residents to “decline to sign” the petitions, because they said they are being solicited under false fears.
“This small minority is going around and misleading citizens into believing this ordinance does things that it doesn’t do,” Rasor said. “The fact is, in the 22 communities in Michigan where this ordinance has been passed, and hundreds of communities throughout the United States, there has never been a time where any of the terrible things they say will happen have happened. It’s scare tactics and it’s designed in order to scare people into signing this petition.”
Birchard previously wrote in a letter to the Review that men thinking they are women would be allowed to use women’s restroom facilities and play on women’s athletic teams.
“The reason they’re trying to undo it is because they want the right to hate and the right to discriminate in the city of Royal Oak,” Rasor said.
Others who have spoken out against the ordinance in recent months have cited religious reasons. At Rasor’s side Thursday were three clergy members from the region. They included the Rev. Jim Lynch of the Metropolitan Church of Detroit, Episcopal priest Wayne Knockel and Beth Rakestraw of Divine Peace Metropolitan Community Church in Waterford.
“People trot out religion as a reason to hate, but that’s not the God that we serve,” Lynch said. “The God that we serve is a God of love, a God of justice, a God of inclusion, not a God of fear and a God of hate. The gay and lesbian community has been discriminated against, and we are probably the last great group this strongly discriminated against.
“I’m appalled, not surprised, but appalled that there’s a small number of people that wants to trot out fear and hate tactics in this day and age.”
“Christ is open to everyone, not just select people,” Knockel said. He said that those citing religion as a reason are doing religion a disservice. “I don’t think that’s the Christian that we want to be spreading. Even if you’re not Christian, we want to move toward inclusiveness. When we all put our talents together, we make our community that much better.”
Rasor said the human rights ordinance was designed to help the community provide equal grounds for housing and employment.
“We decided it was the right time and right place to do this in Royal Oak,” Rasor said. “And the reason it is the right time and the right place is because this is one of the best tools to maintain the best and brightest coming to this community. This is one of the best tools to maintain and keep your property values high. And this is one of the best tools to make sure all the citizens in your community feel that they’re equal. This ordinance didn’t give anyone special rights; it leveled the playing field and it gave equal rights to each and every citizen in Royal Oak.”
Birchard is optimistic he’ll be able to collect the necessary signatures to put the item on the ballot for voters to decide later this year. Voters had denied a similar ordinance by 67.36 percent in 2001.
“I don’t think it’ll be 70/30, but I think it’ll be rejected,” Birchard said.
Rasor felt that the community had become more tolerant and welcoming in the past 12 years.
“If this gets to the ballot box in November, then let’s go,” Rasor said. “We have a fight. We’re going to kick their butt by a landslide, because we’re on the side of future; we’re on the side of justice. We’re on the side of fairness, folks, and we’re going to win this battle.”
Rasor said anyone could have their signature retracted with a visit to the City Clerk’s Office inside City Hall, 211 William St.