Last week marked movement on the amendment to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act and the introduction of an amendment to include same-sex marriage in the Michigan constitution. It’s cause for celebration – sort of.
When our legislators tout their LGBT-friendly bills, they talk about why its necessary to civil rights in our state, why they’re introducing it and how critically important it is. What they don’t often admit is what kind of chance the bill stands of actually getting passed in Michigan legislature.
In our current Senate, the truth is always “not good.”
Yes, hate crimes legislation passed our Democratically-controlled House of Representatives earlier this year and Elliott-Larsen could be passed soon, bringing us one step closer to statewide protections from discrimination in employment, housing, crimes and public services. But the next step is always the Republican-controlled Senate, where – as the hate crimes bill is currently doing – liberal legislation will be ignored and eventually die.
In fact, just a few weeks ago, Sen. Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing), who is the minority vice chair of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, stated plainly that it is “not very likely” that her committee will even take up the hate crimes bill, let alone that it will ever make it to the floor for a vote.
It begs the question “why do we bother?” and, more importantly, what do we have to do to make sure that in future sessions of Congress, these bills stand a chance?
We push our measures forward to set precedent for future movement on them. Same-sex marriage, for example, isn’t always won the first time a state tries to achieve it, but it gives a good idea where our support lies and where we need to focus our efforts the next time we try. Moreover, as with hate crimes and discrimination laws, when we pass them in the current Michigan House, it will make them that much easier to pass in the next session before we try again to push them through the Senate.
Passing LGBT legislation is a process, not a one-time, all-or-nothing attempt. Need a local example? Just look at Kalamazoo. Their City Commission passed their anti-discrimination ordinance twice and had it rescinded twice before it went before voters and was overwhelmingly approved.
Even when we know there’s no chance of one of our bills becoming law, it’s still important to keep it in the front of legislators’ minds so that we know that, Democratic majority or not, we’re not giving up on our issues.
But pushing against a brick wall isn’t the only way to make it crumble.
In addition to focusing our efforts on legislation, we need to focus it on our legislators. Next year is an election year – a chance to change the make up of our Senate.
Let’s rally the troops to help LGBT senators gain seats so that when our bills come up again – including Rep. Pam Byrnes’ bill for same-sex marriage and the repeal of Proposal 2 – they don’t meet that brick wall.
If the House and the Senate are on our side, our long-awaited bills, including hate crimes, Elliott-Larsen and anti-bullying legislation – with enumeration – will finally have a fair shot at getting a vote and passing into law. Then we’ll really have cause to celebrate.