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City Council to vote on LBGT bill resolution

October 17, 2011


East Lansing landlords and employers might obtain the ability to openly and legally discriminate against students and members of the LBGT community if a recently introduced bill gains enough support from Michigan lawmakers.

If passed, the law would make it legal for landlords and employers to deny people based on student status and sexual orientation, as it would make the city’s anti-discrimination policies illegal.

Students could be turned away from housing and employment because they identify with a certain sexual orientation, or simply because they attend a university. Both students and those of all sexual orientations currently are protected under ordinances in East Lansing’s city code.

On Tuesday, the East Lansing City Council will vote on a resolution formally opposing the bill against local anti-discrimination policies, as well as another two bills that have drawn criticism from the LBGT community for allegedly allowing discrimination.

“For me, it’s an issue of fundamental fairness and people’s dignity,” said Councilmember Nathan Triplett, who will introduce the resolution tomorrow evening.

If passed, the law could have dire consequences for both MSU and East Lansing, said Elan Nichols, a College of Law professor who specializes in rental housing law. If East Lansing landlords had the option to block students from living in their houses and apartments, more would be forced to move outside city boundaries, Nichols said. This likely would hurt the vibrancy of neighborhoods near campus and even could lead to a drop in enrollment at MSU.

“That would really change the face of the university and the town,” Nichols said.

Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, who is sponsoring the bill, did not return calls for comment on Monday.

Two other bills, which were passed by the House last month, would make it illegal for East Lansing and MSU — to offer benefits for same-sex partners. The city and university currently offer benefits to both heterosexual and same-sex partners.

State Rep. Dave Agema previously said the measure is designed to enforce the law — which he said some universities and municipalities wrongfully ignore — and to save millions in taxpayer money.

“The people that were trying to get around the legal law and the supreme court ruling have no standing,” Agema said in a previous interview. “To let that continue means it’s okay to break the law.”

Although the proposed city council resolution carries no legal weight, it would pose city council against the bills, and urge State Rep. Mark Meadows and State Sen. Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, both East Lansing Democrats, to vote them down.

Even if it is passed, the bill that would legalize student discrimination might not last long. Nichols and Triplett, who also is a College of Law student, have significant doubts about the bill’s constitutionality. A law regulating local governments to such a degree likely could be seen as violating both the Michigan and U.S. constitutions.

“Someone will definitely challenge that law,” Nichols said. “It could be quite a hornet’s nest.”

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