LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Republicans on Wednesday proposed a long-awaited bill to prohibit discrimination against gays, though chances dimmed for legislative approval of the measure because of concerns that transgender people would not be protected.
Sponsored by Rep. Frank Foster and backed by House Speaker Jase Bolger, the bill would update Michigan’s civil rights law to include sexual orientation but not gender identity.
But critics, including Democrats whose votes likely would be needed to send an anti-gay discrimination bill to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, said it should be “fully inclusive” for the LGBT community.
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“To bring forward a bill that doesn’t do that is setting us backwards, and I’d rather us take this to the vote of the people if this Legislature is not courageous enough to do the right thing,” said Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing.
Under existing state law, it is illegal to discriminate based on religion, race, sex and other factors in employment, housing, public accommodations, schools and colleges.
Bolger said existing prohibitions against sex-based discrimination already shields transgender residents.
Emily Dievendorf, executive director of Equality Michigan, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, called the bill “inadequate.”
“By deciding to leave gender identity and gender expression out of the bill, the sponsors of this bill have handed those who wish to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people a huge gift,” said Dievendorf.
“Either intentionally or naively, this bill accomplishes none of its stated goals. We have no intention of leaving the transgender community behind. We also are faced with the reality today’s glaring omission impacts the entire community. As LGBTQ victim and legal advocates can tell you, many lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are also fired because of their gender expression, any bill which is not fully-inclusive is inadequate.”
A coalition of business leaders and others has been lobbying to add legal protections for LGBT people as a way to attract talent to Michigan. Democrats in September introduced legislation to do so when Republicans delayed their own bills, in part because of a dispute over whether to include both sexual orientation and gender identity protections.
Article continues belowMeanwhile, another new measure with better odds in the GOP-controlled Legislature, introduced by Bolger on Wednesday, is a Michigan version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits the government from burdening the exercise of religion without a compelling interest.
The two GOP bills are not tied together, which means Republicans could still approve the religious liberty legislation if the sexual orientation measure stalls.
Bolger said a state religious freedom measure is needed because the federal law does not apply to laws or government action at the state or local level.
Two House committees will consider the bills in December, when the lame-duck session is expected to intensify.