ACLU urged Council not to discriminate on basis of sexual orientation

Manassas, VA — The Manassas City Council on Monday voted to grant a special use permit to local resident Howard Daniel, allowing him to operate a part time massage therapy business out of his home in a residential neighborhood. Monday’s 5-1 vote in favor of the permit reversed a 4-3 vote last October denying it. Daniel, who is gay, had drawn opposition from conservative groups, which urged City Council to turn down the request.
The ACLU of Virginia sent City Council members a letter in October asking them to ignore anti-gay sentiment against Daniel, but to make the decision as they would for anyone else.
“We are pleased that the Manassas City Council decided to treat Mr. Daniel as they would any other businessman,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “He was almost certainly a victim of anti-gay prejudice the first time around.”
Monday’s re-vote came about after it was discovered that one member of City Council who voted against issuing the permit in October had a conflict of interest. That councilmember, who abstained from Monday’s vote, worked for a law firm that had done some work for Daniel in his quest for the permit.
The 5-1 vote in favor was also due in part to a personnel change on Council since last October.
Daniel’s opponents cited such concerns as traffic, parking, and preserving the residential character of the neighborhood, even though most of them did not live in the affected area.
But City Council had easily approved two other home-based massage businesses and rejected none over the last two years, and Daniel had support from many of his neighbors. In addition, a report issued by the Manassas Planning Commission noted that massage therapy businesses have no impact on traffic or the value of homes.
In her letter of October 23, 2006 to City Council, ACLU of Virginia legal director Rebecca Glenberg wrote that the Supreme Court has held discrimination against lesbians and gays without a rational basis to be unconstitutional. “Mere dislike or disapproval for a particular group does not constitute a rational basis. Nor do flimsy pretextual justifications such as those offered at the September 18 public hearing,” the letter noted.

Contact: Kent Willis (w) 804/644-8022