Victory! Michigan Supreme Court Rules That State Civil Rights Act Includes LGBTQ+ Protections

Ruling means businesses, landlords may not discriminate based on sexual or gender identity

Sarah Bricker Hunt

The Michigan LGBTQ+ community is celebrating after the state’s Supreme Court ruled late Thursday that the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act does, indeed, encompass LGBTQ+ rights.

The 5-2 decision means that Michigan businesses, landlords and others may not discriminate based on any person’s sexual or gender identity. We’re looking at you, The Broadway Avenue.

While Elliott-Larsen has been in place since 1976, LGBTQ+ discrimination has been practiced openly due to a technicality. The language in the act, which established the framework for Michigan’s civil rights policy-making, bans discrimination on the basis of sex. Thursday’s decision makes clear that “sex” in this instance includes gender identity and sexual orientation.

As Republican Justice Elizabeth Clement wrote in the majority opinion, “Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily constitutes discrimination because of sex.” Chief Justice Bridget McCormack and justices Richard Bernstein, Megan Cavanagh and Elizabeth Welch, all Democrats, all voted alongside Clement. Brian Zahra and David Viviano, Republicans, dissented.

As Pride Source reported earlier this year, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel argued before the court in March. “I have long fought for equal treatment under the law,” Nessel said at the time. “I was proud to represent our client agency [the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR)] this morning, as well as the people of our vibrant state. No one should experience barriers to employment, housing, education, or public accommodations and services because of who they are or who they love.”

Nessel’s arguments centered on her assertion that it would be impossible to discriminate against a person based on sexual orientation without also discriminating against them based on gender.

.@miattygen @dananessel Prevails in ELCRA Case.
The Michigan Supreme Court sided with AG Nessel and affirmed that the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of an individual’s sexual orientation. ➡️

— Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (@MIAttyGen) July 28, 2022

“Our residents deserve to live in a state that recognizes the value of diversity and rejects the notion that our own civil rights law could be used as a tool of discrimination. This ruling is not only a victory for the LGBTQ+ community, but for all Michigan residents, and one that’s long overdue," Nessel said in a statement Thursday.