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Democrats push LGBTQ protections for Michigan

LGBTQ+ flag photo

LGBTQ protections will be added to state civil rights law either by the legislative process or Michigan voter approval, two Democratic state legislators vowed Monday.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer joined Metro Detroit Sen. Jeremy Moss and Rep. Laurie Pohutsky at a news conference to announce what they believe will be the last push needed to add sexual orientation and gender identity or expression protections to Michigan law, 40 years after the Elliott-Laren Civil Rights Act was signed.

“Our diversity is one of our greatest strengths and that diversity needs to be protected under state law if we’re going to attract the talented workforce our businesses need to create jobs and grow our economy,” Whitmer said. “In 2021, it’s time for us to finally get Michigan on the right side of history.”

The lawmakers and Whitmer say they believe a majority of people in Michigan support the changes.

Moss said all 16 state Senate Democrats support the legislation alongside co-sponsor Republican Sen. Wayne Schmidt, meaning only one more vote is necessary for there to be a tie that would be broken by Democratic Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II. He was confident some Republicans would support the Senate bill.

Pohutsky said Republican Rep. Tommy Brann signed on as co-sponsor for the House legislation and she is sure other Republicans will vote to pass the bill, even if they don’t want their names on it.

“Unfortunately, as much as we talked about this being a nonpartisan or bipartisan issue, there is still a stigma that this is a Democratic issue and there are representatives on both sides of the aisle who have a personal stake in this,” Pohutsky said.

The two Democrats, among the state’s few openly LGBTQ lawmakers, said a reckoning is coming and that lawmakers who haven’t supported previous such efforts are going to have to take a stand as the bills advance and a ballot initiative nears the Capitol.

Fair and Equal Michigan, an organization committed to protecting the rights of the the state’s LGBTQ community, filed a petition in early 2020 to amend the state’s civil rights law. The petition garnered nearly half a million signatures.

The Legislature can either vote to change the law themselves or pass the ballot initiative to allow Michigan voters to determine the outcome in November 2022.

State House Speaker Jason Wentworth’s spokeswoman Lynn Afendoulis said he will consider the ballot initiative once the state has reviewed the signatures. The legislature then has 40 days to approve or vote down the ballot measure. Request for comment from the state Senate majority leader was not immediately returned.

“I would bet that we are in the last throes of this effort and so it’s really a call to action for those on the other side, either join us on this effort and better understand what we’re trying to achieve here or don’t,” Moss said.