Michigan lawmakers have passed a bill expanding the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect LGBTQ residents from instances of discrimination in employment, housing, education, and access to public accommodations.
The bill passed the Michigan Senate last week, 23-15, with three Republicans voting with all of the chamber’s Democrats to approve it.
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted 64-45, with eight Republicans voting with Democrats to advance the bill, reports MLive Media Group.
Democratic lawmakers — who control the legislature for the first time in 40 years following the 2022 election — spoke favorably of the bill, which was one of the first six pieces of legislation they introduced on the first day of this year’s legislative session.
Taken together, those six bills provide a glimpse at the party’s economic and social agenda, which includes repealing a 1931 ban on abortion, repealing “right-to-work” laws, rolling back the retirement tax for seniors, and expanding the earned income tax credit.
“No one should be afraid to go to work, or school, in fear of their safety,” openly gay Rep. Mike McFall (D-Hazel Park) said of the nondiscrimination law, which liberals have argued is long overdue in a so-called “blue state” like Michigan.
“It’s long past time for us to amend Michigan’s civil rights law so we can make our state a place where everyone is welcome, regardless of who they love or how they identify,” McFall added.
Republicans offered a series of amendments to the bill seeking to carve out special exemptions for religious individuals or organizations, to drop gender identity from the bill, and to require individuals to use restrooms matching their assigned sex at birth. Those amendments were ultimately rejected.
Lawmakers who voted against the bill, such as Rep. Luke Meerman (R-Coopersville) claimed they did so not out of animus toward the LGBTQ community but concerns over religious protections for those with sincere beliefs opposed to homosexuality, same-sex marriage, or the concept of gender identity.
“We must respect our neighbors and the values that guide them,” Meerman said. “We must be tolerant and compassionate to those with different beliefs and backgrounds than our own…. Michigan can do better than to pass legislation that does not offer these protections.”
Rep. Bill G. Schuette (R-Midland), the son of the state’s former Attorney General and the unsuccessful 2018 Republican gubernatorial nominee, argued that unless the bill contained exemptions for religious organizations and individuals, the state would lose money defending itself from lawsuits.
But opponents of such exemptions noted that the inclusion of religious “carve-outs” has not stopped far-right legal groups from challenging any law that includes LGBTQ people as a protected class.
The bill now returns to the Senate for enrollment, after which it will head to the desk of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who will sign it into law.
The Trevor Project, the nation’s top suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, praised the passage of the bill, saying it would give hope to young LGBTQ people living in the state and hopefully reduce feelings of isolation, depression, anxiety, or suicidal ideation.
“Michigan brings us one step closer to creating a society where LGBTQ young people never have to fear being turned away from a business or told they cannot participate in an activity or enter a public space just because of who they are or who they love,” said Gwen Stembridge, advocacy campaign manager for The Trevor Project, in a statement.
Equality Michigan praised the bill as a sign of progress.
“Discrimination has no home in our state,” Erin Knott, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “Michigan now joins alongside 21 other states who have sent this same message to their own LGBTQ communities and codified these protections into law. … We are witnessing a sea change toward equality, bringing us closer to a future where everyone is treated equally under the law, no matter our gender, the color of our skin, how we worship, or who we love.”
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