Civil Rights Protections Expanded in Michigan

LANSING — With passage in both the Michigan State Senate and State House of Senate Bill 4, sponsored by State Senator Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), Michigan will soon expand the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act to include protections for the LGBTQ+ community.

The bill comes after decades of trying by advocates for human rights and dignity in Michigan. According to the law firm Littler Mendelson, P.C., The Michigan Supreme Court ruled that discrimination based on sexual orientation qualifies as discrimination because of sex. Rouch World, LLC v Michigan Department of Civil Rights. More specifically, the Rouch court found that one’s sex is necessary to the identification of sexual orientation and therefore discrimination on that basis is discrimination on the basis of sex. The new amendment explicitly codifies the protection afforded by the Rouch decision but goes further to add protection for gender identity and gender expression, which were not addressed by the court’s opinion.

The vote in the House included a surprise yes vote as Representative Bill G. Schuette, son of former Michigan Attorney General and failed 2018 gubernatorial candidate Bill Schuette, cast his yes vote. Many see this as a sign of generational progress as the elder Schuette was known for his much more conservative and anti-civil rights record throughout his long career.

The younger Schuette explained in a tweet thread, “There is no place and there is no room for discrimination in Michigan or in America, which is why I voted yes on final passage revising the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.”

After the vote, disgraced former co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party Meshawn Maddock, tweeted the names of the Republicans who voted to expand civil rights with a note that people would not forget how they had voted. As of press time, no one had responded to her.

For many in the legislature the vote was not only the culmination of a decades-long fight for civil rights but a moment of personal pride. Many members of the legislature who are members of the LGBTQ+ community made statements after the vote in both legislative chambers.

“For far too long, LGBTQ+ Michiganders could not seek justice after enduring discrimination because we were excluded from our state’s Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act. In a historic vote today, the Michigan Senate passed my bill to expand the act and liberate our community,” Sen. Jeremy Moss said. “I’m running through the tape, but this baton has been passed from generation to generation of LGBTQ+ activists in Michigan – icons in our community like Jeff Montgomery, Ruth Ellis, Jim Toy, Henry Messer and many others. And now we are telling generations yet to come that they have a future.”

Represenative Emily Dievendorf addressed some of the comments made by members of the minority prior to her floor speech, “I can’t tell you how degrading it is, after 20 years of working on this, fighting for my own life and the equal access and opportunity for others in my lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, to sit while my colleagues introduce amendment after amendment after amendment, in order to ensure that I continue not to have rights, in order to ensure that I, in particular, am excluded.”

The bill now awaits Governor Whitmer’s signature and will then become law.

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