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Town Settles with Marriage Equality Act Protestors; 'Bias Free Zone' Repealed

Members of Southampton Full Gospel Church says town law encroached on constitutional rights.

Protestors on the steps of Town Hall in 2012. Credit: Brendan J. O'Reilly/File Photo
Protestors on the steps of Town Hall in 2012. Credit: Brendan J. O'Reilly/File Photo

Southampton Town is getting rid of its "Bias Free Zone" at Town Hall because the area actually caused more harm than good, according to those who successfully sued the town after trying to protest Marriage Equality Act in 2011.

"It's just an example of small government encroaching on the constitutional rights of citizens," said James Boyd, an East Hampton resident and deacon in the Southampton Full Gospel Church who was among the protestors on the first day same sex couples could wed.

In a settlement reached recently, the town agreed to rescind "Bias Free Zone" legislation, remove the signs referring to it, and pay the group's legal fees, totaling about $40,000.

Boyd said he and six others were told they couldn't protest on the steps of town hall on July 26, 2011, because it was a designated "Bias Free Zone" and they were moved to the sidewalk, about 30 feet from the steps.

"We were threatened with arrest. We were told to leave the Town Hall and we were refused entry. This is here amongst your neighbors in Southampton," said the Rev. Donald Havrilla.

Their intent was to hold a peaceful demonstration, just as they did one year later on the anniversary of the day same-sex couples could legally obtain a marriage license in New York State.

Police officers, from both the town and village — Town Hall is located in Southampton Village — kept a close eye on the group as they conducted a peaceful protest, including prayers and songs. Boyd said the group was made mostly of people in their 70s. 

"I was the second youngest and I'm 53," Boyd said. "I can't point to anyone of them who may have been violent," he said.

In the days, weeks, and months following the incident, Boyd and Havrilla tried to get answers from town officials as to the purpose of the "Bias Free Zone." Boyd said he felt town officials were "stonewalling."

Feeling they had not been answered, Boyd said the group decided to move forward with a lawsuit, which was filed in late 2012, when they found an attorney, Steven Dunn, a friend to the church, who was willing to take their case pro bono.

In a statement this week, Councilwoman Bridget Fleming said the "Bias Free Zone" was created in 2008 "to promote civility and respect, and to erase racism in our community." It was set up in a similar way to the “Drug Free Zone” sign campaign at schools, she said. The town board passed a resolution to put up signs at town-owned facilities.

Fleming said the town board has since rescinded the resolution.

“The intent of the original signs was never to impede upon anyone’s first amendment rights, but rather to promote civility, and so we have agreed to remove the bias free zone signs," Fleming said.

"We attempted in the beginning to bring this to their attention," Havrilla said, adding that they realize some things have unintended consequences. "We're not suggesting their intent initially wasn't to have anyone harmed by this."

Asked about the importance of the decision, Havrilla said, "We hope that local officials will see that they have to be a little more careful when they are legislating laws like this," he said. "People have to realize that their rights are being eroded. We're hoping that will awaken people. Our rights have to be defended."

Both Havrilla and Boyd said this is not just their victory. "This is for everybody. History shows us they take my rights today and your rights will be gone too. This is a first amendment freedom for everybody," Havrilla said.

The town board is planning to erect new signs at town facilities "to assure the residents and visitors of our continued commitment to treat all people with dignity, respect and in an unbiased manner when interacting with town officials,” Fleming said.

“The Town Board did a good thing by allowing the signs to be refurbished and reworded," Gerald Martin, the Anti-Bias Task Force chairman, said in the statement. "These signs are not meant to limit freedom of speech. They are a reminder to people in all walks of life that they will be treated fairly by the Town, without bias and discrimination.”

New signs will go up soon, and the language is being reviewed by town officials.

"Certainly they have the right to generate another law," Havrilla said, but he felt it was "not smart legislation" if the wording hasn't been decided yet.

muskrat October 18, 2013 at 03:36 PM
Havrilla is such a screwball. But, I do think he was correct in this case. He and his group had the right to stand in front of town hall and say whatever stupid thing they wanted to say. Just as I do.
christie nicolle October 19, 2013 at 12:08 PM
gee, Leftists + their double standard again. Soon as gays get legal stuff they push for more... like adopting innocent children or paying surrogates to have them; how selfish + disgusting. This can only be called evil! These children will grow up traumatized + confused over not having a mother + a father as role models. Yes, the Leftist propaganda machine is the devil's tool. Political-correctness even bans the TRUTH what psychiatrists have known for years, that homosexuality IS a mental disorder. So now, society is ruled by freaks instead of the enlightened + normal. Sick.
Jimmy Mack October 19, 2013 at 12:28 PM
Thanks christine nicolle for telling me I have a mental disorder and referring to me as a freak. I find it hard to believe that people like you exist in a wonderful community in which I proudly serve as volunteer EMT. I had the pleasure of going to Southampton Town Hall on July 25th of 2012 with my now husband Brian to register to get married here in Southampton on August 1, 2012 and would like to take this opportunity to thank Sundee and Liz for the joy they express when they helped fill out our forms. I have lived and worked and give back to this community all my life, my husband Brian teaches Special Ed in the NY Public School system, whathave you done for our community besides spew your hate? Just curious and astounded that people like you still exist!
Squeaky October 19, 2013 at 07:14 PM
Wow Christie, you make me ill. I'm just in awe you are able to function in this society. Hopefully, when you need them, a gay doctor, police officer or EMT wont hold this against you.
Flyguy October 20, 2013 at 12:01 AM
Dearest Christie, How sad I am for you that your ignorance and hatred fill your thoughts. Whether you realize it or not. Gay people have benefitted you in one way or another. We are doctors, lawyers, teachers, football players, mechanics, and men and women that have latex our lives down for your freedom. and in every walk of lifesaver well. And yes we are parents too! And we go to church, love god and believe it or not have morals. I have three amazing children, they speak three languages, play two musical instruments each, are A students in school. They feel loved, cherished, understood and never judge anyone. Even someone like you. And they are in no way confused, hurt or abused. They get to see their mother every week and are not missing out on anything. You have no idea what you are talking about. You are just another judgmental person who cannot back up their feelings about this with sound rational and factual information. It is merely personal opinion meant to lash put at something you truly do not understand. But the great thing about this country is that you can be whoever you truly are. So even though I detest how you think you are still allowed to be who you are. And so too should I be allowed the same courtesy. Also any loving person gay or straight should be applauded for adopting a child. And straight people also use surrogates. Adopted children are more often or not being taken out of a bad situation. A child unwanted grows up confused and hurt and sometimes hateful. A child loved nurtured and cherished grow up sane thrive. Which one are you? Who hurt you so badly that you hate people you know nothing about. And by the way, you must not have read any scientific data after 1968 regarding how being gay is not a psychological disorder. It is mostly genetic. Of course you will think that this is also 40 years of leftist propaganda and the devils work. What a scary world you live in where you are more afraid of gays than the murderers, rapist, terroists, etc. gay people are generally peace loving. Have you ever been hurt by one, or the mere thought of them disgusts you. I am sorry we do not fit into your schematic, and my apologies for wanting to have rights and be equal and the reason we are obtaining equal rights now is because thankfully people that think like you are a dying breed. Eventually people We are everywhere and we are never going away, so as much as you hate us we will never disappear. In fact as we have more and more children the world will be filled with people that don't judge. I bet that scares you! I am so glad that you spoke up and shared your views because now you are out of the closet as a hater. I wish you peace love and hopefully one day you will become a nicer person to ALL people. Signed, really!?
Flyguy October 20, 2013 at 12:05 AM
Sorry for the typos!
Faustina October 20, 2013 at 10:23 AM
Like a vampire the Christie Nicolle thing comes to life when you nourish it. Don't feed it with comments. It's getting near to Halloween too, so the Christienicolle was bound to emerge spewing poison. It belongs to the species succubus-ignoramus. (Imagine the breath!). As for those stupid token signs of a non-bias area, anyone who spends any time in Southampton knows that they accurately delineate the limits of non-bias here.
christie nicolle October 20, 2013 at 12:01 PM
Why can't someone disagree, without you liberals attacking them as haters?? Perhaps YOU are the haters... haters of the opposite sex, Right? Haters of God's word, Right? Must be a reason God calls homosexuality an abomination. Must be a reason psychiatrists observe mental illness in majority of gays...even studies in Liberal Holland find gays still suffer mental illness despite being accepted. Nobody is saying gays don't contribute to society; Nobody is saying they're not deserving of respect + dignity as anyone else! Nobody is saying they're a bunch of promiscuous, Aids spreading + church hating menace to society. (Even if some are). It's just a sin distorting the definition of marriage, which is ONLY between a man a woman.
Faustina October 20, 2013 at 12:12 PM
See what I mean.
highhatsize October 20, 2013 at 01:31 PM
to christie nicolle: Most folks suffer from mental illness, some more so than others, as your post so clearly illustrates. -------------------------------------------------------Everyone has a favorite Old Testament quote. One of mine is Numbers 31:17 -18, wherein Moses tells the Israelite soldiers to kill all the enemy women and children (in addition to all the men whom they have already killed) except for virgin females whom they can have for raping. I'm pretty sure that that biblical command is considered superannuated these days, and it's a lot more straightforward than the one against homosexual behavior. -------------------------------------------------------On the other hand, a literalist like yourself might disagree.
susan October 21, 2013 at 08:32 AM
where to begin?? religion is a very personal belief and we shouldn't be bashing each other with its tenets. different people believe in different things and beings. we all have the civil right which protects us from dictating to others about what to believe in. as well. we also have the civil right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and to marry the one we love. christie, when did you choose to be straight? i bet you didnt', you just were. well, it's the same for gays. they didn't one day choose to be gay, they just were. so go in peace, love each other, do good in the world and respect each other.
James Sanford October 26, 2013 at 08:39 PM
As a Republican, I am astonished that anyone who calls themselves pro-individual, anti-govt, pro-constitution, anti-regulation, against govt intrusion in our lives .... can actually believe gay people need to be regulated out of existence. I can't think of a more intrusive, offensive, unconstitutional invasion in our lives then a movement to enforce personal religious views, and opine on a consensual relationship among two people. Religious intolerance and the anti-gay movement need to be rinsed out of the party .. immediately.

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