LANSING — The Michigan House on Wednesday approved bills to add protections for LGBTQ people to the state’s civil rights law, capping a decades-long legislative effort to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, public services and housing.
The 64-45 vote, which backers called historic, came a week after the Democratic-led Senate passed the legislation. All 56 House Democrats and eight of 54 Republicans supported it. There was applause on the floor and in the gallery following the vote. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will sign the changes.
The law bans certain types of discrimination in employment, public accommodations and public services, educational facilities, and housing and real estate. The legislation would add sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to the list, which currently covers discrimination based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status and marital status.
In a case known as Rouch World, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled last year that the word “sex” applies to sexual orientation and not just gender. A lower judge’s determination that the law applies to gender identity-based discrimination was not appealed.
“Amending the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act is the most direct way that we can ensure all Michiganders know what protections they have and ensure those protections withstand fickle political whims,” said Rep. Lauri Pohutsky, a Livonia Democrat and one of six openly LGBTQ legislators who spoke in support of the bills. “No one is asking for a fundamental shift in religious tolerance. All we are asking is for the ability to live and work in our state with the same humanity and protections as every other Michigander.”
Chambers of commerce and major companies support the legislation partly as a way to attract and retain a talented workforce.
Republican Rep. Rachelle Smit of Martin, who voted against the bill, said they go against the intent of the 1976 law.
“Discrimination of any kind is wrong, and nobody should be treated unfairly or unjustly because of their personal choices. However, this expansion would infringe upon the religious rights of employers and business owners,” she said.
The Michigan Catholic Conference expressed disappointment that amendments were not adopted to enable religious institutions to follow their beliefs.
“As a result, discrimination and targeted litigation toward faith-based institutions is highly likely,” said Tom Hickson, vice president for public policy and advocacy.
Democrats said the civil rights law already protects against religious discrimination.
State Attorney General Dana Nessel, who is lesbian, was in the House to watch the vote.
“This expansion of the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act will provide immediate enhanced dignity for thousands of Michiganders and further codify what was intended with its passage nearly 50 years ago: civil rights for all Michiganders to be free from discrimination in employment, public accommodations, public services, housing and educational facilities,” she said. “As we’ve seen over the past year, it is imperative that in addition to securing these rights through court interpretation as my department was able to do with Rouch World, these rights must also be enshrined in Michigan law to help them withstand future legal attacks.”
From Crain’s Detroit Business.