Leaders of Fair and Equal Michigan, the campaign seeking to ban discrimination in the state based on sexual orientation or gender identity, say that they are disappointed but not surprised to find out the Catholic Church made significant contributions to block the effort.
Revealed in a campaign finance report filed with the state Monday is the fact that the Michigan Catholic Conference has given nearly $240,000 in cash and in-kind donations to Citizens for Equality, Fairness and Justice, the campaign against the effort. The Conference gave $38,874 in the month of July alone, and, in addition, the Conference's donations to the committee made up the majority of the direct donations they received this funding cycle.
"The Catholic Church's opposition to LGBTQ equal rights is unfortunate, but not unexpected," said Hovey. "It's no secret that the Church has been out of touch with the majority of voters in Michigan and across the country on this issue for a very long time and that we are thankful that campaign finance laws make the Church's anti-equality position very clear."
Hovey also noted that the state's existing Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act provides exemptions for religious institutions and that language in the new proposal does not change those exemptions.
"At the end of the day, what opponents to our initiative are asking for is to continue being able to use religion as a license to discriminate," he said. "We believe very strongly that is wrong, and we are confident that, not only are the vast majority of voters in agreement with us but also that if a vote was held in the legislature today, we could amend Elliott-Larsen to protect LGBTQ people immediately."
Through a statement released to the press on the day the contributions were revealed, the Catholic Conference said it had many problems with the proposal, including how it defines religion.
"The Fair and Equal Michigan proposal includes an unprecedented and likely unconstitutional provision to define religion only as a person's individual beliefs and would restrict the ability for religious organizations to provide humanitarian aid and social services in the public square," said Michigan Catholic Conference Vice President for Communications David Maluchnik. "The proposal would have a crushing impact on the poor of Michigan by harming many Catholic and Christian, Muslim and Jewish organizations who daily and outwardly express their faith as a way of life out of love for their neighbor."
Maluchnik went on to say that that he feared the passing of the proposal "would likely label as 'discriminatory' or 'hate speech' religious teaching that differentiates between the two genders, exclude faith-based organizations from providing necessary medical and social services for Michigan's neediest citizens, and create ongoing and burdensome legal challenges for any number of religious communities."
Finally, Maluchnik pledged that the Conference would continue to work against any similar future proposal.
"It appears that the people of Michigan have wisely declined to provide sufficient signatures for this ballot proposal," he said. "Going forward, Michigan Catholic Conference will continue to work to protect the constitutional religious rights of every person in Michigan."