by Jessica Carreras
LANSING – Last week the Michigan legislature saw promising movement on two bills for LGBT rights in the state. Both measures – one to amend the state constitution to allow same-sex marriage, the other to amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include LGBT protections – likely face the same fate as the stalled hate crimes legislation in the Republican-controlled Senate. However, legislators in the House of Representatives are pushing forward on the momentum of the recent win in Kalamazoo for that city’s anti-discrimination ordinance.
Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act
On Nov. 4, the day after 65 percent of Kalamazoo citizens voted to protect LGBT people from discrimination in housing, employment and public services, the House Committee on Judiciary voted 9-5 to pass House Bill 4192 to the floor for vote. The bill, introduced by Sen. Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor), would amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
The bill had remained in the Judiciary Committee since February, when Rep. Warren first introduced it.
Judiciary Chair Mark Meadows (D-East Lansing) pushed for a vote in the committee last Wednesday, citing the Kalamazoo ordinance passage as reason for the sudden movement. “With the passage in Kalamazoo last night by overwhelming majority of voters of a similar law, it is time to move this bill,” said Meadows, according to the Michigan Messenger.
The vote came down almost on party lines, with the eight Democrats in the committee voting to approve it, along with Sterling Heights Republican Tory Rocco. The remaining five Republicans voted no.
Local LGBT advocates and groups heralded the movement. “Michigan can proudly say that we are leading the way on behalf of equality and fairness for all of our residents. The passage of the Kalamazoo anti-discrimination ordinance was a tremendous victory and the momentum for equality is continuing with the committee vote yesterday,” said Shelli Weisberg, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. “We thank Rep. Rebekah Warren for her leadership on this issue and we look forward to working with her as the legislative process continues.”
Also on Nov. 4, Speaker Pro Tempore Pam Byrnes (D-Lyndon Township) made good on a promise to the LGBT community by introducing legislation to reverse 2004’s Proposal 2 and amend the Michigan constitution to allow same-sex marriage.
Rep. Byrnes, a known supporter of LGBT rights, had announced her intention to do so in June at a Lansing rally following the California Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Proposition 8.
Now, though some remain skeptical that 2010 is too soon to push for the amendment, Byrnes is moving forward with her plan.
“This really boils down to treating all people with the dignity and respect everyone deserves,” Byrnes said in a statement. “So many of us were raised to treat others how we’d like to be treated – it’s about time we start actually doing that. Last time I checked, the Golden Rule didn’t say, ‘Treat others how you’d like to be treated, unless they are gay or lesbian.'”
Fifteen U.S. states currently have some sort of protections in place for the rights of same-sex couples. Under Byrnes’ proposed legislation, Michigan couples would have full marriage rights – including the title.
“Same-sex couples should not be denied the joys and responsibilities that come with making a lifetime commitment to each other,” Byrnes added. “The Michigan I know is not a place that would deny visitation rights to a dying loved one or access to health care just because of someone’s sexual orientation. It’s wrong to arbitrarily treat certain groups of people like second-class citizens and it’s time to update our laws in Michigan to make sure no one is treated that way.”