Election Could Affect Gay Rights In West Michigan City

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HOLLAND, Mich. (AP) _ Leaders of a small conservative city in western Michigan narrowly defeated a law to protect gays from discrimination two years ago. Tuesday's election could put the controversial issue back on the table.

Two people running for re-election to the Holland City Council opposed adding sexual orientation to the local anti-discrimination law in 2011. The law has a good chance of passing if they're defeated.

``Holland likes to think of itself as a town unaffected since the '50s,'' said the Rev. Bill Freeman, who was arrested during demonstrations at City Hall in favor of the law. ``Hopefully, on Election Day, it will come into the 20th century.''

Gay rights groups have held protests and put their message on a billboard supporting a change, The Detroit News reported (http://bit.ly/1iCQdX2 ). Threats to boycott Holland, best known for an annual tulip festival, have turned into an effort to promote businesses in favor of adding gays to the anti-discrimination law.

``It has gotten everybody energized,'' said resident Jim Larkin, a retired newspaper editor who is gay.

Council members Brian Burch and Nancy DeBoer are being challenged by Don Martin, who is gay, and Richard Burlingame.

Burch said Holland residents should treat everyone fairly without amending the law. DeBoer said her religious beliefs make her uncomfortable about extending protections to gays.

The Christian Reformed Church, Reformed Church in America and other faiths have influence in the community near Lake Michigan, 30 miles southwest of Grand Rapids.

The Rev. Ralph Houston of Immanuel Reformed Church said changing the law to protect gays would be a public endorsement of homosexuality.

``I wish they wouldn't make an issue of it. People are better off not to say anything about it,'' Houston said.

The campaign has been rocky for Burlingame, who disclosed on Facebook that he has a conviction for domestic assault. The newspaper also reported the temp worker has twice been convicted of drunken driving.

``Now the whole state knows I have a record,'' he told the News.

From the Associated Press

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