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MiRFRA Heard Before Senate Judiciary Committee

By |2015-04-30T09:00:00-04:00April 30th, 2015|Michigan, News|


LANSING — The controversial Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act (MiRFRA) — introduced as SB 0004 by GOP Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake — was heard before the Senate Judiciary committee April 28, the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments regarding same-sex marriage. No vote is expected.
The MiRFRA law is similar to that of the Indiana RFRA which would allow businesses and corporations to discriminate against the LGBT community using “deeply held religious beliefs.” However, Shirkey said that the Michigan law would be different because it would not extend to lawsuits involving individual parties.
There was widespread backlash from the public and the business community shortly after Gov. Mike Pence signed the Indiana RFRA into law late March. Large companies like Apple, Salesforce and Yelp all spoke out, with Salesforce openly saying that it would no longer pursue expanding in Indiana.
“Passing RFRA could hinder the ability of all Michigan businesses to recruit and retain a talented workforce,” Steelcase Senior Vice President Lizbeth O’Shaughnessy said in a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Rick Jones. “The direct immediate negative economic impact of such legislation was made clear recently in Indiana.”
Last year in the lame duck session, the Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition pushed lawmakers to update the state’s non-discrimination Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include protections for LGBT residents. Now as the judiciary committee will look at MiRFRA, Steelcase, Kellogg and Herman Miller — all members of the workforce coalition — have vocalized their displeasure through letters to legislators and Gov. Rick Snyder.
The judiciary committee could take MiRFRA up at any time and send the bill to the full Senate for approval. Members of the state Senate can file a discharge petition seeking to force a vote on the legislation.
Progress Michigan, a liberal advocacy group opposed to the legislation, slammed the plans to hold a hearing.
“Clearly, the Michigan GOP has not learned anything from what happened in Indiana,” said Sam Inglot, communications specialist for Progress Michigan. “Conservatives in the legislature are so blinded by their ideology that they’ll push for a bill that would hurt families, harm businesses and make us the laughing stock of the entire nation. The fact that this bill is even getting a committee hearing shows how out of line these far-right elected officials are with reality, public opinion and basic human decency.”
Gov. Rick Snyder has told lawmakers he will not sign MiRFRA if the legislature doesn’t amend the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. He has even gone so far as to issue a public veto threat.
Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He supports MiRFRA and said in an interview that he thinks the LGBT community should as well. Jones also thinks the controversy of similar legislation in Indiana was a political move meant to undercut the presidential aspirations of Gov. Mike Pence.
“I believe this recent uproar was a political attack on Gov. Pence because he is a Republican and mentioned he might run for president,” Jones said.
Sen. Steve Bieda, the only Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he is a firm “no” vote on MiRFRA and believes there are other committee members who would vote no as well.
“Their base — their radical right-wing base — really likes this,” Bieda said of the GOP’s push.
The committee heard arguments at 3 p.m. just hours after the Supreme Court concluded arguments in four marriage cases which will dramatically alter the future of marriage equality in the U.S. no later than the end of June.

About the Author:

Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.
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