Gay rights activists won a major victory when Ferndale passed a human rights ordinance that prohibits discrimination against anyone because of their sexual orientation in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations and services.
Under the ordinance, passed Sept. 13 by City Council, such discrimination is also prohibited on the basis of a persons race, color, religion, gender, age, height, weight, marital status, familial status, national origin, or physical or mental disability.
Violators of the ordinance would face a civil fine of up to $500 plus legal expenses.
"We are ecstatic about the decision," says Sean Kosofsky, policy director at the gay and lesbian advocacy Triangle Foundation. "It only makes sense that in a community where much of its livelihood comes from its gay and lesbian residents that its protections would be extended like this."
The council passed the ordinance 4-1, with only Councilman Robert Paczkowski opposed. Paczkowski, who says the ordinance gives homosexuals "special preferences," says hes circulating a petition calling either for council to rescind the law or for a special election to let voters decide the issue.
He points out that in 1991 Ferndale voters rejected an anti-discrimination law protecting gays and lesbians. Paczkowski says Mayor Chuck Goedert and his council allies are running the city like a dictatorship.
However, Goedert, who is up for re-election in November, says the new measure is so different from the 1991 proposal that he doesnt consider the councils vote a reversal. The old proposal, says Goedert, consisted of two sentences, whereas the new five-page ordinance is more conservative, including definitions and exemptions for private clubs and religious educational institutions.
Also, Ferndales homosexual community has grown and gained political strength since the earlier measure was rejected. Kosofsky says almost 400 Ferndale households support or belong to Triangle Foundation, which threw its political weight behind the council vote.
"People are very confused by rhetoric from the religious right that this is just a gay rights ordinance, and that confusion plays into their decisions," says Kosofsky, explaining why he preferred that the council decide on the ordinance.
Triangle Foundation Executive Director Jeff Montgomery says that in passing the ordinance, the mayor and council saved their community from a costly election and infiltration by "right-wing wackos" who he says normally try to manipulate communities during these kinds of ballot issues.
Goedert says although Ferndale residents didnt vote on the law, he believes the roughly 20 people on the task force that drafted the ordinance were a cross section of city residents. The group included clergy and gay and lesbian representatives.
Goedert says Ferndales ordinance should be a model for other communities.
"Ferndale really does appreciate its diversity and how its been healthy for our revitalization," he says.