GRAND RAPIDS — Michigan GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Schuette on Monday morning signaled further willingness to expand the state’s civil rights law following an endorsement controversy last week.
Speaking during the bi-annual West Michigan Policy Forum in downtown Grand Rapids, Schuette said his views about offering protections from discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation had been “misinterpreted.” If elected governor, Schuette said he would work with a variety of stakeholders to close legal loopholes that allow for discrimination.
“The fact is, with respect to Michigan, when I’m governor I’ll represent everybody in the state. There can be no discrimination of any kind,” Schuette said to applause from the hundreds of business and political leaders gathered for the event. “Whether it’s race, color, creed, sexual orientation, ethnicity or religion, there’s no place for discrimination in Michigan.”
The sitting state Attorney General made the comments toward the end of a wide-ranging 35-minute live discussion with WOOD TV 8 political reporter Rick Albin. Schuette’s Democratic opponent, former state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, declined an invitation to the event.
Albin further pressed Schuette on whether he would actively work to expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, the state’s anti-discrimination law that does not currently cover cases related to gender or sexual orientation.
“I’ll look at (Elliott-Larsen), absolutely. And we’ll look at it so there’s no discrimination,” Schuette said. “We’ll honor and respect the varying views and come to a room and say, ‘How do we get this done?’ Other states have done that; we can do that in Michigan.”
The issue locally has been front and center since last week, when the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, via its Friends of West Michigan Business PAC, endorsed Schuette, citing his “pro-business” policies. The Chamber, which has repeatedly called for expanding Elliott-Larsen, immediately came under fire for the statement, with business executives calling for the endorsement to be rescinded and members such as Founders Brewing Co. withdrawing their membership.
The Chamber subsequently deleted its social media posts announcing its support for Schuette, but still maintains the endorsement. A Chamber executive was unavailable for comment on Monday.
The controversy arose from Schuette’s opinion as attorney general earlier this year that the Michigan Civil Rights Commission had overstepped in broadening the language of Elliott-Larsen.
“I was asked to offer a legal opinion whether an unelected group of eight people could change the law concerning Elliott-Larsen. The answer to the civics course legal opinion is no, they can’t,” Schuette said on Monday morning. “Only the legislature can change the law. That was the legal opinion I gave. It’s been misinterpreted, quite frankly.”
While Schuette spoke about advancing policies that prohibit discrimination, many advocates note his record of fighting against LGBT equality, including his fight to uphold a state ban on gay marriage.
Equality Michigan Executive Director Stephanie White last week told MiBiz that Schuette “never misses an opportunity to fight against LGBT rights.”