Historic day for LGBTQ rights, as anti-discrimination bill goes to Whitmer
- Michigan House votes to prohibit LGBTQ discrimination
- Legislation codifies recent court rulings
- Gov. Whitmer will sign into law, saying ‘bigotry is bad for business’
LANSING — Gay and transgender Michiganders are poised to win permanent protections against discrimination under legislation headed to the desk of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for a promised signature.
The Democratic-led House on Wednesday gave final approval to long-discussed legislation to expand the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
The bill codifies a series of recent court orders and interpretive statements that have already extended similar rights to Michigan’s LGBTQ community.
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Supporters called Wednesday’s House vote another historic step in the fight for equality that will strengthen prohibitions against discrimination in the workplace, housing market and places of public accommodation.
Expanding the civil rights law "is the most direct way we can ensure all Michiganders know what protections they have" and ensure their rights are not subject to "fickle political winds," said state Rep. Laurie Pohtusky, D-Livonia, who described herself as “the first out queer woman to serve in the Michigan Legislature.”
Attorney General Dana Nessel, the highest ranking openly gay official in Michigan history, joined Democrats on the House floor during the vote. So did sponsoring Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, who is Michigan’s first openly gay Senate president pro tempore.
A crowd gathered in the House gallery broke into applause following the 64-45 vote, which saw eight Republicans join with majority Democrats.
Most House Republicans opposed the LGBTQ rights legislation, arguing it would infringe upon religious liberty of business owners and organizations. GOP lawmakers proposed a series of failed amendments to add various religious exemptions to the legislation.
“Religious individuals and organizations (have) deeply held beliefs about sexuality and gender,” said Rep. Rachelle Smit, R-Shelbyville. “Forcing them to act in a way that goes against their beliefs, is a violation of their religious freedom.”
Democrats noted Michigan’s civil rights law, as originally written in 1976, already prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion.
“No one is asking for a fundamental shift in religious tolerance,” said Pohutsky, the Livonia Democrat. “All we’re asking is for the ability to live and work in our state with the same humanity and protections as every other Michigander.”
Several of the state’s leading business groups have backed the legislation, however, calling it a tool to help employers recruit qualified workers.
“This is about doing the right thing, and it is just good economics,” Whitmer said in a statement praising the House vote. “Bigotry is bad for business, and ensuring these protections will build on our reputation as a beacon of opportunity where anyone can succeed.”
Michigan has generally prohibited LGBTQ discrimination since 2018, when the state's Civil Rights Commission began investigating related complaints as a form of "sex" discrimination.
The U.S. Supreme Court offered a similar interpretation in 2020, ruling that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is discrimination based on sex.
Likewise, the Michigan Supreme Court last year ruled that sexual orientation is already a prohibited form of discrimination on the basis of sex under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act
Still, supporters contend it is important to codify those court decisions in Michigan law, sending a signal to LGBTQ residents that their rights will not be decided by future litigation.
Among other things, the legislation would prohibit employers from firing or refusing to hire a person because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
Businesses and other places of "public accommodation" could not deny goods or services to people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
And in housing, real estate agents or brokers could not refuse to work with, rent or sell a property to an individual because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
“We're often accused of having a secret agenda,’ said state Rep. Mike McFall, a Hazel Park Democrat who is gay.
“The truth is the only agenda I have is to live life free from discrimination and to be able to walk down the street holding my husband's hand without fear.”
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