Michigan Senate votes to add LGBTQ protections to anti-discrimination law
- The Michigan Senate voted 23-15 to expand state civil rights act to codify legal protections for LGBTQ communities
- Legislation is supported by a broad coalition of business groups
- Many Republicans argue the legislation goes too far and tried without success to add religious exemptions
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LANSING — LGBTQ people would be explicitly protected by Michigan’s anti-discrimination law under legislation passed in the Michigan Senate on Wednesday.
In what supporters called a historic moment, Senate Bill 4 — which would expand the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity — passed the Senate by a 23-15 vote Wednesday morning, with three Republicans joining the 20 Senate Democrats.
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“Today I’m running through the tape, but this baton has been passed on from generation to generation of LGBTQ activists,” Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, the bill’s sponsor and Michigan’s first openly gay state senator, said on the Senate floor ahead of the vote.
“Real Michiganders suffer from real acts of discrimination…for no other reason other than their sexual orientation or gender identity,” he continued. “Had it not been for their courage to come forward to bring much needed attention to these wrongs, we could not have progressed to this moment.”
The entire Senate Democratic caucus and Republicans Joe Bellino, R-Monroe, Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, and Michael Webber, R-Rochester Hills, voted in favor of the proposal.
Court decisions at the Michigan Supreme Court and federal level have already ruled that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited. In 2018, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission declared it has authority to review complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
At the state legislative level, however, similar bills have stalled in the Legislature for decades under Republican leadership. The bill passed Wednesday likely will become law now that Democrats have a majority in both chambers of the Legislature and control the governor’s office.
Several Republicans argued against the bill, expressing fears that the legislation could infringe upon religious beliefs.
The bill “goes too far because it seeks to protect one group of people at the expense of others,” Sen. Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, said in his no vote explanation.
Efforts to amend the legislation to add religious orientation, religious identity and religious expression as additional protected classes failed on the floor.
Sen. Lana Theis, R-Brighton, said business owners and other religious people “should not be forced to do things against our will.”
Moss retorted that there should be no conflict between sexual orientation and religion, and said the suggested Republican amendment would allow anyone to deny services to any protected group listed under the act, including women and minority groups.
Though protections outlined in the bill are already in place through court decisions, Democratic lawmakers said it’s still important to codify them in law, in part because of the arguments presented against the bill on the floor.
“It is not my son’s fault that his mere existence interferes with others’ moral order of things,” Sen. Veronica Klinefelt, D-Eastpointe, said during the debate. “It is precisely because individuals in this room and elsewhere had that feeling about my son that he needs to be protected against you.”
The bill has support among civil rights activists and a coalition of powerful business groups, including Business Leaders for Michigan and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has already expressed her support for the change, arguing in her 2023 State of the State address that “bigotry is bad for business” and costs states talent and economic investment.
Moss told reporters after the vote that there is more work to be done, including addressing the state’s same-sex marriage ban, which would need a Constitutional amendment to be changed, and amending the state’s hate crime statute to better protect LGBTQ residents. But he views Wednesday’s vote as significant progress.
“This is going to save lives, it really is,” he said. “It’s going to allow people to live a fulfilling, ture, authentic life here in the state of Michigan.
The legislation now heads to the House for further consideration.
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