Metro Weekly

Campaign pushing for pro-LGBTQ ballot initiative in Michigan turns in more than 480,000 signatures

Legislature has 40 days to approve amendment adding LGBTQ protections to civil rights law, or else it ends up on 2022 ballot

michigan, vote, lgbtq, fair and equal
Fair and Equal Michigan volunteers drop off signatures for an initiative to add LGBTQ protections to civil rights law – Photo: Fair and Equal Michigan, via Facebook

A campaign pushing to add nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Michiganders into state law submitted more than 480,000 signatures last week, which likely brings it one step closer to being added as an initiative on the 2022 ballot.

Fair and Equal Michigan submitted 483,461 signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office last week as part of a proposal to amend the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The civil rights law currently prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations solely based on a person’s race, religion, sex, and other characteristics. The amendment would add sexual orientation and gender identity to that list of characteristics. 

“Michigan’s lack of anti-discrimination protections gives LGBTQ people a distinct disadvantage in Michigan and allows us to be legally treated as second class citizens,” Dr. Mira Jourdan, the co-chair of Fair and Equal Michigan, said in a statement. “No one should be discriminated against based on what they look like or who they love.”

Under state law, petitioners have to submit 340,047 valid signatures from registered voters in favor of a proposed amendment. Once signatures are verified, the legislature then has 40 days to pass the amendment. If lawmakers in Lansing fail to act, the amendment ends up on the November 2022 ballot, reports Michigan-based news outlet MLive.

The proposed amendment has been backed by a coalition of political activists, and LGBTQ advocates, and business leaders, including more than 30 companies and organizations such as Apple, Google, Dow chemicals company, several unions, and the “Big Three” automakers: General Motors Company, Ford Motor Company, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Even former State Rep. Mel Larsen, the co-sponsor of the state’s civil rights law, has come out in favor of adding LGBTQ people to the classes of people protected against discrimination.

“Michigan stands united to bring LGBTQ rights into law for the first time,” Fair and Equal Michigan Co-Chair Trevor Thomas added. “Our grassroots of nearly 500,000 people and the submission of signatures in a pandemic stems from the decades of changing hearts and minds by the Michiganders who have shared their story with their family and friends of who they are and who they love.”

Although the Michigan Civil Rights Commission has previously ruled that LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act — a view that was upheld, in terms of employment discrimination, in a recent Supreme Court case — advocates have said they want to add explicit references to sexual orientation and gender identity to the law to avoid confusion, as well as any future attempts to “reinterpret” what sex-based discrimination entails.

See also: Michigan ads attack Joe Biden and Sen. Gary Peters over support for trans rights

Signature gatherers previously encountered difficulty collecting signatures amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, due to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order and protocols calling for people to socially distance to avoid spreading the virus.

That led Fair and Equal Michigan to file a lawsuit against the Michigan Board of Canvassers, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and Elections Director Jonathan Brater arguing that they had not been granted sufficient time to collect enough signatures before the stay-at-home order was handed down.

The speed at which the Secretary of State’s office is able to verify signatures will determine whether the amendment is considered by the current House of Representatives or their 2021 successors. Benson previously said that it could take up to 105 days to verify signatures for an unrelated ballot initiative that received more than 500,000 signatures.

Although the Michigan House is up for re-election this year, the State Senate is not. While a Democratic-led House following the 2020 elections — which is not a certainty — would be more favorable to a pro-LGBTQ rights initiative, it is unlikely that the Republican-controlled Senate would agree to any such measure.

That means lawmakers are unlikely to pass the amendment within the 40-day window period, resulting in the amendment’s appearance on the 2022 ballot for voter approval.

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