Michigan: 2014 In Review

By |2014-12-25T09:00:00-05:00December 25th, 2014|Michigan, News|

Jeremy Moss (Left) and Jon Hoadley (Right).

Elliott-Larsen Amendment

This was almost the year that the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act was amended to include the LGBT community. Almost. A broad coalition of business leaders formed in the spring to help lead the way on the process, arguing amending the law was good for business. But from the start, co-chair of the Competitive Workforce Coalition, AT&T Michigan President and openly gay man, Jim Murray, started undermining the legislation. He went off script from the coalition, which supported and continues to support legislation which includes the entire LGBT community. Murray, however, lobbied for a bill that excluded the transgender community. After the November election, Republican lawmaker Frank Foster of Petosky introduced a sexual orientation only bill to amend the civil rights act. Activists opposed the Foster bill, referred to as the “two word solution,” opting instead for the fully inclusive legislation introduced earlier in the year by East Lansing Democrat Sam Singh. The House Commerce Committee heard testimony on the bills in November but adjourned without a vote. House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) said the legislation was dead because of “leftists'” opposition. Bolger had previously stated he would not support a fully inclusive bill and would oppose inclusion of the transgender community.

Religious Freedom

While House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) was pushing the sexual orientation only legislation to amend the state’s civil rights act, he was also introducing legislation to “balance” the rights of religious persons in the state. The bill, titled the Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act (MiRFRA), is modeled after legislation on the federal level as well as many states. It would allow a person to assert a government law or regulation to be a burden to the free exercise of “sincerely held religious beliefs.” The civil rights amendment went down in Committee; two days later, MiRFRA came up for a vote in the House Judiciary Committee. It was adopted and sent to the House floor, where it was approved by the full Republican controlled House and sent over to the Republican Super Majority controlled state Senate. The bill passed with only minor corrections. Nine amendments were offered, and only one was adopted. Some rejected language includes amendments to limit the use of MiRFRA as a defense in child abuse cases – including genital mutiliation and incest – and exempting local and state civil rights laws from the application of the law. The end result of the rejection of the amendments, should the law be passed by the state senate? An abuser could claim a defense for child abuse under MiRFRA, and local nondiscrimination ordinances would be gutted, allowing discrimination to occur under the guise of “sincerely held religious beliefs.” As of this writing, the bill has not been taken up by the Senate and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has stated he will take “a hard look” at the bill since it was supposed to be passed as part of a “package deal” to protect the LGBT community.

Election Highs and Lows

While Michigan returned a Democrat (Gary Peters) to the US Senate (replacing retiring Democrat Carl Levin) and managed to elected two openly gay men to the state House, the elections were generally dismal for LGBT equality. Despite what many thought would be significant turn out for the election, there wasn’t – in fact, turnout was the lowest for a gubernatorial election since 1998, reported Michigan Public Radio. The result is that the Michigan House became more firmly controlled by the GOP, while the state Senate remains controlled by a Republican super majority. Voters also returned Rick Snyder to the governor’s office, Bill Schuette to the Attorney General’s office and Ruth Johnson to the Secretary of State’s office. Schuette and Snyder continue to defend Michigan’s marriage ban. In the House, voters saw fit to install a trio of tea party activists – Gary Glenn, Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat – to the lower chamber. The trio are stridently anti-gay, particularly evident with Glenn’s past as the president of the American Family Association of Michigan – an affiliate of the nationally recognized anti-LGBT hate group, the American Family Association. Joining the trio will be Brighton Republican Lana Theis, who wants the state to avoid allowing marriage equality by claiming a states’ rights defense.

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