A statewide campaign to amend the state’s civil rights law is examining its next steps after today’s landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court banning employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Fair and Equal Michigan campaign — which had been collecting signatures this year for a ballot initiative to add LGBTQ protections in the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act — is seeking legal advice about how it should proceed.
On Monday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that employers can’t fire employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity in a case that originated in Michigan. The court ruled that the protections fall under the definition of sex in the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“This ruling is great news for the LGBTQ+ community across the country!” Fair and Equal Michigan co-chair Trevor Thomas said in a statement. “Our legal counsel is analyzing the decision now and will be advising us on how it will impact people in the state of Michigan and our campaign moving forward.”
The campaign has seen a mix of setbacks and victories so far during its signature gathering, which occurred during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, the Michigan Court of Claims ruled that the campaign could have 69 extra days to collect the 340,000 required signatures to make the ballot. The campaign has until October to collect signatures in hopes of making the 2022 ballot.
The initiative follows several years of legislative efforts to amend Elliott-Larsen, which hasn’t received support from the Republican-led state Legislature. Last year, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield said the latest legislative push — backed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — would not be a priority for them unless legislation includes religious exemptions.
Whitmer said today expanding Elliott-Larsen is still a priority “to protect members of the LGBTQ+ community and make Michigan a state where more people want to move to for opportunity.”
Whitmer called today’s Supreme Court ruling “good news for the countless LGBTQ+ Michiganders who have been fighting for equality for decades, and would not have been possible if not for one of the plaintiffs, Aimee Stephens, a brave Michigander who fought for transgender rights until the day she died. There is still more work to do.”
Supporters say amending Elliott-Larsen is long overdue based on widespread public support, as well as backing from the business community. In April, the Big Three automakers announced their support for the Fair and Equal Michigan campaign. Other supporters include DTE Energy, Consumers Energy, Herman Miller Inc. and Dow Chemical Co.
The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, “in an effort to create a thriving and prosperous West Michigan for all, has long supported protections for the LGBT+ community,” the group said in a statement today, adding that the effort helps attract and retain talent.
“Our organization applauds the latest United States Supreme Court ruling that the Civil Right Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, to include sexual orientation,” said GR Chamber President and CEO Rick Baker. “This is a win for our business community, citizens and economy. We’re eager to work with stakeholders on next steps to make Michigan a great place to live and work.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with comment from the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.