- New law will extend anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ residents in employment, housing, business transactions
- Whitmer says she’s excited to put state on ‘the right side of history’
- Bill saw bipartisan support, although many Republicans opposed it over religious freedom concerns
Michigan’s LGBTQ residents will be covered by the state’s anti-discrimination law under legislation signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Thursday.
The legislation, dubbed historic by supporters and LGBTQ rights advocates, means that employers won’t be able to fire or refuse to hire a person because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Landlords and real estate agents cannot refuse to rent or sell a property to a person because of their sexual orientation or gender identity under the legislation, and businesses won’t be able to deny goods or services to LGBTQ patrons.
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“This moment is so long overdue, and too many suffered to get here,” said Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, the bill’s sponsor and one of several LGBTQ officials and advocates in attendance at the signing ceremony. “For us, this day has finally arrived: Equal protection under the law.”
The new law includes sexual orientation and gender identity as classes protected against discrimination under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, codifying a series of court orders and interpretive statements that have extended similar rights to Michigan’s LGBTQ community.
The act was backed by former lawmakers Daisy Elliott, a Democrat, and Mel Larsen, a Republican.
Larsen, who attended Thursday’s signing ceremony, said the original intent of the act was to ensure every Michigan citizen has the right to protection from discrimination.
“We’re on this earth to move the pendulum a little further in our lifetime,” he said.
Whitmer, a longtime supporter of the policy who has said that “bigotry is bad for business,” said Thursday that she has always been an ally, but now considers the matter personal as well as the “proud mom of a gay woman.”
“Michiganders are freer today, they are happier today, and I am proud to be playing a small part in that,” she said. “I am excited to put our state on the right side of history.”
The new law will officially take effect 90 days after the current legislative session ends, as the bill was not granted immediate effect in the Senate.
Although there was some bipartisan support for the plan in the Legislature, most Republicans opposed the bill, arguing it would infringe on the religious liberty of business owners and organizations who oppose LGBTQ rights.
Democrats countered that the law as originally written in 1976 already prohibits religious discrimination and suggested amendments proposed by Republicans would allow anyone to deny services to any protected group listed under the act, including women and minority groups, if they claimed it would conflict with their religious beliefs.
The effort had support among civil rights activists and a coalition of powerful business groups, including Business Leaders for Michigan and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, who called it a tool to help employers recruit qualified workers.
Michigan has generally prohibited LGBTQ discrimination since 2018, when the state’s Civil Rights Commission began investigating related complaints as a form of “sex” discrimination.
The U.S. Supreme Court offered a similar interpretation in 2020, ruling that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is discrimination based on sex. And the Michigan Supreme Court last year ruled that sexual orientation is already a prohibited form of discrimination on the basis of sex under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
Supporters of the change stressed Thursday that updating the law’s language would make clear to LGBTQ residents that their rights are protected by the law, not just by the outcome of recent litigation.
Attorney General Dana Nessel, who successfully challenged Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage before the U.S. Supreme Court in DeBoer v. Snyder in 2014 and is the state’s first openly gay statewide elected official, said she recalled instances after same-sex marriages became legal of newly-married people getting fired on the spot after attempting to add their spouse to their medical insurance.
That showed her just how far the state and nation had to go, Nessel said. Expanding the civil rights act to include LGBTQ people is another important step in the right direction, she said.
“We’re all well aware that court decisions can change depending on the composition of the jurists – they can change at any time,” Nessel said. “The LGBTQ community deserves to at long last see the words sexual orientation, gender identity and expression printed in black and white in our statutes. Those words matter.”
Separately, Democrats in the Michigan Senate on Thursday approved legislation that would expand the law again to prohibit discrimination against women who have abortions. Current law prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy but specifically excludes elective abortions from that definition.