Resounding applause filled the hall as a new human rights ordinance was unanimously approved at the Mount Pleasant City Commission meeting Monday night.
Under the new ordinance, traits including race, religion, color, national origin, gender, sex, age, marital status, physical or mental disability, family status, sexual orientation and gender identity are covered to prevent discrimination in the employment, housing and public accommodation of individuals.
Gaining the most attention were sexual orientation and gender identity, which are not covered under state or national anti-discrimination laws.
The ordinance was subject to considerable deliberation as it was rewritten over a number of lengthy meetings since its initial proposal by a citizen group backed by the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Michigan last November.
“I want to thank everyone who came forward to speak,” said Commissioner Sharon Tilmann. “It made our meetings very, very long, but I think it exemplifies democracy at its best.”
Much of the debate surrounding the ordinance during its development was regarding the proper enforcement without interfering with religious freedom.
“(The ordinance) has a way of indicating to the public at large, the people that move here, the students who come here, that we are a welcoming community,” said Mayor Bruce Kilmer. “At the same time, it’s indicative that we do not want to infringe on the religious rights of some that do may not agree with everything.”
Mount Pleasant resident Norma Bailey was the first of two public commenters to speak before the vote took place at the Monday meeting. She began by thanking the city officials for their efforts in creating the ordinance, and then asked everyone who came to the meeting in support of the passage of it to stand to show their support. A flurry of motion and noise followed as the supporting audience responded in unison.
“We’ve come here tonight because we are very firmly are in support of the ordinance,” Bailey said. “But also in support of the process that this commission has gone through over a good number of months to in fact allow the city to work together to provide an ordinance that now is inclusive of everyone.”
Marie Reimers, CMU sophomore and chairperson of the university’s diversity committee, then spoke. Reimers told a personal story of a homosexual friend who had attempted suicide in response to discrimination in society.
“Seeing that this City Council and that this city supports the individuals who are LGBT means so much to my friend, to me, to other people who feel disenfranchised,” Reimers said. “This sends the message that the city of Mount Pleasant cares about them, that they accept them and that they’re welcome here.”