LANSING—Michigan’s Democratic-controlled Senate voted Wednesday to expand the state’s civil rights law to include the LGBTQ community and prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.
Democrats, who took full control of state government for the first time in 40 years after the November election, have made amending Michigan’s 1976 Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act a top priority for decades. This week’s passage marks the farthest the issue has ever moved in the legislative process, as conservative Republicans spent years blocking such efforts.
The House is now expected to move quickly to take up the bill, and it could be signed into law in the coming weeks.
“This has been a long journey of real people here who have suffered and people who have died waiting for this moment to come,” state Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), the bill’s sponsor, said after the vote. “We are taking this baton and running to the finish line.”
Moss, who is gay, delivered an impassioned speech on the Senate floor before the bill passed 23-15. The bill received support from three Republican lawmakers.
“In these last decades, real Michiganders suffered from real acts of discrimination: denied housing and evicted, denied jobs and fired, denied services and put out of places for no other reason than their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Moss said in a statement. “They were kicked out of Michigan’s economy both as workers and consumers. This left them figuratively and sometimes literally beaten, battered, and bruised for having the audacity to live their lives as they were. Had it not been for their courage to come forward to bring much-needed attention to these wrongs we could not have progressed to this moment. This bill is dedicated to them.”
Michigan’s civil rights act already prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public services based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status or marital status. The amendments are designed to curb discrimination for the nearly two-thirds of LGBTQ individuals who report experiencing discrimination in their everyday lives.
The changes are also in line with reforms adopted in 22 other states and more than 100 cities.
Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel, the first openly LGBTQ person elected statewide in Michigan, said during a roundtable near Detroit on Feb. 24 that without legal remedies, many LGBTQ community members have stayed silent when faced with discrimination.
As a private practice attorney, Nessel said, she was presented with discrimination cases “on a daily basis.”
“I had to tell those people, ‘I’m so sorry. I wish there was something I could do. There’s no law to enforce here.”Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel
Polls show 83% percent of Michiganders support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. The legislation has also earned widespread support from a number of organizations, including the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, Corktown Health, and the Detroit Police Department, as well as various medical professionals, faith leaders, spouses and parents.
A number of businesses and economic organizations have also advocated for the legislation as a way to make Michigan a more welcoming, inclusive and competitive state. The Michigan Realtors Association, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Detroit Regional Chamber, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, and Business Leaders for Michigan, among other groups, have all endorsed the legislation.
“Michigan’s laws should be as welcoming as our state feels,” Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) said in a statement. “When policies allow for discrimination against a wide segment of our population solely based on who they love or their gender identity, we aren’t accomplishing that goal.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.