By AJ Trager
Updated Sept. 16
LANSING – Two bills were introduced into the Michigan House and Senate Sept. 10 that would amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
State Sen. Rebekah Warren (D-18th District) and State Rep. Sam Singh (D-69th District) introduced similar bills into the House and Senate to amend the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
Current legislation does not include sexual orientation or gender identity among a list of protected classifications of discrimination that include: religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status or marital status.
“Today I once again introduced a bill to include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. Updating the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act is about protecting our citizens and their families from being fired from a job or being denied housing because of who they are or who they love,” Warren said in a statement following the release of her bill.
“In addition to this being a matter of basic fairness and equality that enjoys widespread public support, it is also an economic imperative and an important step in making our state a vital and vibrant location as we recruit the top talent and businesses from around the globe,” Warren said.
The Senator has introduced amendments to the Civil Rights Act many times, the most recent of which was in 2012. Warren believes that adding sexual orientation to the list of protected characteristics would provide immediate protections for people in their every day lives.
The two bills are extremely similar, Rep. Singh said. They include no religious exemptions or exclusions. Senate Bill 1053 was signed by 11 of the 12 Senate Democrats, with Minority Leader Tupac Hunter as the only Democrat to opt out. The House bill was signed by all 50 House Democrats and received one independent signature.
“It concerns all of the LGBT community, and from this point forward we will continue conversations with the Republicans,” Singh said when discussing the language of his bill.
Singh has been working on the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act Amendment for the past 16 months and wants to see this legislation move forward. He has been working with other members of the House, including State Representatives Adam Zemke and Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor, as well as state advocacy groups and business leaders.
Rep. Frank Foster (R-107th District) from Petoskey had been formulating his own Elliott-Larsen bill that was to be introduced in the House but has now been delayed until after the Nov. 4 elections.
House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, told MLIVE he’s trying to find a way to balance individual anti-discrimination protections with “respect for religious liberty.” Some GOP members want to see a religious exemption, either in the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act itself or through companion legislation.
Jim Murray, president of AT&T Michigan and co-chair of the Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition, which is calling for an amendment to the civil rights law told MLIVE, “I don’t think it’s necessary to introduce a bill that’s got a second component we don’t even know about yet.”
Murray advised Foster to wait on the bill and introduce it later in the year during the lame duck.
“It’s not going to be ready before the election, and there’s really no reason to rush it out in September,” Murray said. “It was just one of those windows we had. It looks like that window is closing, so we’re looking at lame duck,” MLive reported.
The workforce coalition is pushing to expand the law and has grown to include Blue Cross Blue Shield, Consumers Energy, Dow Chemical Co., Herman Miller, The Detroit Regional Chamber and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce along with other business groups from Ann Arbor, Battle Creek, Flint and Saginaw.
Murray said that he hopes to see action when lawmakers return to Lansing after the campaign season in November.
Gov. Rick Snyder, when speaking with Crain’s Detroit Business on Sept. 10, said he anticipated action on Elliott-Larsen despite Foster’s loss and that he would look at Elliott-Larsen.
“One thing as governor I’ve learned is it’s not good to tell the Legislature what to do too much,” Snyder told MLIVE. “I really do recommend they look at it. In terms of the timing, I leave that to their decision.”
Some Republican lawmakers may be uncomfortable with adding in gender identity protections to the civil rights bill, according to Murray. The final proposal may focus solely on sexual orientation, meaning it may not hold protections for the transgender community, something most coalition members are opposed to.
Both the Senate and House bills include protections for all members of the LGBT community. Singh said his bill will not include a religious exemption.
“Frank Foster has had a similar bill that he was looking at. But where will the leadership of the Republican Party end up on this?” Singh asked. “We have some time. We will be working hard over the next couple of months, but after the elections in November, we would like to have a vote.”