Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Expansion Precarious

LANSING — The lame-duck machinations to amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) continue with two clear sides firming up in the fight.
One group, led by Democrats and state and national LGBT equality organizations, says there will be no amendment without inclusion of gender identity and expression. The other group, led by Speaker of the House Jase Bolger (R-Marshall), says there will be no amendment that includes gender identity and expression.
"Speaker Bolger does not support the bill that adds gender identity to Elliott-Larsen because he believes they already have protection under existing laws and court rulings," said Ari Adler, spokesperson for Bolger. "He will support moving a version that adds sexual orientation to Elliott-Larsen as long as it is balanced with passage of the Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That strikes the balance the Speaker has been calling for all along — that people should not be discriminated against because of who they are but that people also should not be forced to do something that violates their religious beliefs."
"When it comes to legal protections for marginalized and targeted groups of people, we cannot compromise," State Rep. Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) said. He is the leader for the House Democratic caucus. "No Michigander deserves to be denied employment or housing because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered, and the civil rights of all of them must be protected. We can't support any bill that falls short of that. Justice demands that we stand up for the rights and equality of all people, not just some of them."
Late Friday, MIRS, a subscription only newsletter covering the Capitol and politics, reported that Jim Murray, president of AT&T Michigan and co-chair of the Competitive Workforce Coalition, was stepping away from the initiative. ACLU officials said Monday they had no information to support that report.
"He hasn't said anything to us," Shelli Weisberg, ACLU of Michigan's legislative point person, said in a phone interview Monday morning.
Murray had become a touchstone in the fight in recent weeks as the openly gay executive advocated for legislation that only included sexual orientation. That flew in the face of both the coalition he led and his own employer. Friday afternoon, AT&T national released a statement saying it would only support a fully inclusive measure.
Weisberg says if Murray has departed, it won't impact the coalition's strategy to pass a fully inclusive bill.
"Ever since he went off to the other side, we have been developing our strategy," she told BTL in a phone interview on Monday about Murray's reported "disengagement."
She says a "solid grassroots effort" and "field organizer effort" is going into effect. She said the organizations in the coalition — which includes Gill Foundation, Equality Michigan, ACLU of Michigan, HRC and more — are "putting a lot of pressure on the governor" to come out in support of a fully inclusive bill.
Snyder's office last week refused to answer questions as to whether the re-elected Republican governor supported inclusion of gender identity and expression in Elliott-Larsen. His spokesman would not even discuss if the governor believed that transgender persons were victims of discrimination. All his office would say is that "the governor believes discrimination is wrong, period."
Bolger and his supporters argue that gender identity and expression is already legally protected by court decisions and a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decision. But LGBT leaders say that is inaccurate, noting that the EEOC decision is not legally binding. They also note that the determinations do not cover public accommodations or housing, as Elliott-Larsen does.
In addition to pushing the non-inclusive bill — which he called a "two-word solution" because it extends protections based on sexual orientation — Bolger says the legislature has to pass a state version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, RFRA. He says the two bills create balance; however, he is unwilling to tie success for one bill to the other. That's a legislative move called "tie-barring." Under that move, if one bill fails and the other passes, both bills fail.
Political observers believe a sexual orientation only bill for Elliott-Larsen will fail, but that the state RFRA will pass in this lame duck session.
But ACLU's Weisberg is optimistic.
"I think there is a chance of getting a fully inclusive bill," she said. "Michiganders are way ahead of legislators on this one."


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