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After a bruising eight-year fight, a northern Michigan resort hopes a recent vote to allow non-Christians as members will bring the community back together.

The Bay View Association, which is just northeast of Petoskey, said it respected the voting process and looks forward to the start of a healing process.

“Change is often difficult, but Bay View members have a way of coming together over time,” association President Jon Chism said in a prepared statement.

Chism said he fully expected the group, which was founded on Methodist beliefs, to continue to support Christian values such  as “doing and giving with open hearts, open minds and open arms.”

But it's those Christian-related issues that have opponents of the non-Christian ban  pledging to continue a federal lawsuit against the association.

The ban opponents said they oppose other religious rules, such as requiring that five of the nine members of the association’s ruling board be Methodist.

"That automatically puts non-Christians into the minority," said Sarah Prescott, a Northville attorney who is representing opponents of the ban.

Ban opponents want a federal judge to rule that any type of religious restriction is illegal under the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination.

On Saturday, 69 percent of the members voted to overturn an association bylaw that prohibited non-Christians from buying a home there.

"It is a step forward," said Don Duquette, a longtime member of Bay View who is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, earlier this week. "It doesn't take us the whole way but it sure does help."

The vote followed three earlier attempts, including two elections, to change the rule since 2010.

The last election, held in 2013, saw 52 percent of members supporting the change. But the vote failed because changes to the bylaws require a two-thirds vote of approval.

Saturday’s vote came six weeks after a Detroit News story that described how the issue had split the community, ending decades-long friendships and even turning family members against each other.

fdonnelly@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4186

Twitter: @francisXdonnell

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