TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Voters in five U.S. cities Tuesday will decide gay-rights measures--many of them put on the ballot by conservatives hoping to thwart or roll back gains by homosexuals.
Three referendums will take place in Michigan, where proposed city charter amendments in Traverse City and Kalamazoo would prohibit policies granting "protected status" based on sexual orientation. In Huntington Woods, the question is whether to retain an anti-discrimination ordinance approved by the City Council.
A referendum in Miami Beach, Fla., will determine whether unmarried partners of city employees will get medical benefits. And a proposed amendment to the Houston city charter would prohibit the providing of benefits to unmarried partners of city employees.
"The reason you're seeing a proliferation of these ballot measures is the right wing has been very successful the last few years at winning them," said David Fleischer of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Next year, voters may decide referendums on similar issues in more than a dozen cities. In Maryland, opponents of a new law outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation are seeking a statewide vote.
Voters are taking matters into their own hands because elected officials are approving pro-gay measures against the wishes of the majority, said Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Assn. of Michigan.
"Politicians will cave in to pressure from homosexual activists, but when the issue is put to a vote of the people, in most cases it is soundly rejected," said Glenn, who has helped organize local campaigns opposing gay rights.
Since the 1970s, about 170 U.S. cities and more than 40 counties have adopted anti-discrimination measures protecting gays, according to the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.
But out of at least 19 sexual orientation initiatives on municipal ballots since 1998, gay-rights foes have won 14.
The movement toward letting voters decide began in 1992 with approval of a Colorado constitutional amendment forbidding laws protecting gays from discrimination. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the amendment.
In 1993, voters amended the Cincinnati city charter to prohibit gay-rights policies. A federal appeals court upheld that measure and the Supreme Court declined to review the case.
Gay-rights foes in Kalamazoo and Traverse City are using the Cincinnati ballot language, hoping it will shield them from legal challenges.
"We think they're using Michigan as a test case and if it's successful, they'll be using this tactic to export their anti-gay prejudice to other states," said David Smith, spokesman for the pro-gay Human Rights Campaign in Washington.
Backers of the ballot measure say existing laws give gays all the protection they need. Anti-bias measures could force churches to hire gay workers or force landlords who believe homosexuality is sinful to rent to gay couples, said Fred Weber, chairman of the Traverse City campaign.
"It's infringing on our freedom to live according to our religious principles," Weber said.