Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs protections bill in historic LGBTQ+ victory

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D)
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) Photo: Screenshot

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) signed a bill that adds LGBTQ+ people to the state’s anti-discrimination legislation.

The bill, which passed the state house in a 64 to 45 vote earlier this month, adds the categories of sexual orientation and gender identity to Michigan’s 1976 Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA). The law forbids discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodation within businesses, government buildings, and educational facilities on the basis of religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, marital status — and now, LGBTQ+ identity.

LGBTQ+ activists have been trying to get this bill passed for years, but Republicans refused to provide enough support for it. But now that Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature, it passed.

“Michigan is a state where we stand up for people’s fundamental freedoms,” Whitmer said at the signing ceremony. “I am so proud to be here, and I’m excited to put our state on the right side of history.”

“Protecting these freedoms is the right thing to do and it’s just good economics,” she at her State of the State address earlier this year. “States with extreme laws are losing talent and investment because you know what? Bigotry is bad for business.”

“This baton has been passed generation to generation,” said out state Sen. Jeremy Moss (D), who introduced the bill. “This moment is so long overdue, and too many suffered on the journey to get here.”

“For them and for us, this day has finally arrived. Equal protection under the law.”

The bill codifies protections that the state recently won through court rulings, but LGBTQ+ advocates said that having a law outlining those protections will protect them from being overturned by another court.

In July 2022, Michigan’s Supreme Court issued a landmark 5–2 ruling that ELCRA already forbade discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as forms of discrimination based on sex and gender. This followed a 2020 Michigan Court of Claims ruling that said ELCRA didn’t ban anti-gay discrimination as well as a 2018 vote by Michigan’s Civil Rights Commission interpreting ELCRA as protecting LGBTQ+ people from religious-based discrimination.

“With a law in place that explicitly mandates that LGBTQ people are to be treated with dignity and fairness under ELCRA’s umbrella, a negative court ruling in the future cannot wipe out important progress that has been made,” said the ACLU of Michigan LGBTQ+ Project’s Jay Kaplan at a hearing in February.

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