Michigan would add protections against LGBTQ bias to its anti-discrimination law under a bill headed to the desk of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), who has urged lawmakers to pass it.
The legislation (SB 4) would expand Michigan’s civil rights law by adding “sexual orientation, gender identity or expression” to the categories protected against discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and education.
The state House passed the bill Wednesday by a vote of 64-45 after it previously won passage March 1 in the Senate by a vote of 23-15.
Whitmer has called on legislators to revise Michigan’s bias law since 2019, and reiterated the proposal in her “State of the State” speech in January.
“Every Michigander deserves to be treated with dignity and respect under the law,” Whitmer said in a written statement Wednesday. “I am proud that we are finally getting it done.”
The legislative move codifies the policy of Michigan’s Department of Civil Rights, which has interpreted and enforced the state anti-discrimination law as covering sexual orientation and gender identity since 2018. Also reinforcing that policy, the Michigan Supreme Court found in a July 2022 decision that the state law’s protection against sex discrimination includes sexual orientation, relying partly on the US Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County.
Despite the court precedent, expanding the state’s civil rights law is important to ensure LGBTQ people are aware of their rights and ability to seek legal recourse if they’re wrongly fired, said House Speaker Pro Tempore Laurie Pohutsky (D), who identified herself as LGBTQ.
The legislation is “the most direct way we can ensure all Michiganders know what protections they have and ensure those protections withstand fickle political whims,” she said Wednesday during House floor debate.
Several Republicans raised concerns that the expanded civil rights law would interfere with religious liberty.
“Discrimination of any kind is wrong,” Rep. Rachelle Smit (R) said on the House floor. “However, this expansion would infringe upon the religious rights of employers and business owners. Many religious individuals and organizations hold deeply held beliefs about sexuality and gender.”
Michigan’s existing anti-discrimination law goes beyond federal and most state laws by including protections for height, weight, familial status, or marital status.
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