Michigan LGBT rights group files signatures for ‘historic’ ballot proposal

A circulator collects signatures for the Fair and Equal Michigan petition outside a Joe Biden rally in Detroit on March 9. (Bridge file photo)

LANSING — A group seeking to ensure gay and transgender residents are legally protected from workplace or public discrimination on Tuesday submitted more than 483,000 voter signatures to the state for a potential 2022 ballot proposal. 

Fair and Equal Michigan had initially aimed to put its proposal on this year’s Nov. 3 ballot but struggled to collect signatures during the state’s initial wave COVID-19, prompting a lawsuit resolved by a 69-day court-ordered extension.

Ten months after launching the effort, organizers called Tuesday’s signature submission a “historic milestone” in a decades-long fight for equal rights. 

“Michigan stands united to bring LGBTQ rights into law for the first time,” co-chair Trevor Thomas said in a statement. 

He said the petition drive was successful because of “changing hearts and minds by the Michiganders who have shared their story with their family and friends of who they are and who they love.”

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The proposal would expand the definition of “sex” in the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976 to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression,” guaranteeing safeguards in housing, public accommodation and employment for LGBT residents.

It would build on a June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that firing someone “merely for being gay or transgender” violates the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Tuesday’s filing includes well more than the 340,047 valid signatures required to initiate legislation in Michigan. 

If the group’s 483,461 signatures are validated and certified, the Legislature would have 40 days to act on the proposal or allow it to go on the 2022 ballot, the next year statewide elections are scheduled.

Legislative action is unlikely. Even if Democrats who support the initiative flip the state House this fall, Republicans will retain control of the state Senate, where Majority Leader Mike Shirkey of Clarklake has made clear he’s not interested in the issue. 

The potential 2022 ballot proposal does not yet have any organized opposition. But Michigan business groups have been lining up behind the petition drive effort, which leaders contend will help the state recruit a talented workforce.

Supporters include Business Leaders for Michigan, Bells Brewing, the Detroit Regional Chamber, Dow, DTE Energy, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Herman Miller, Pfizer, Rock Holdings, TCF Bank and more.

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