AG will offer opinion, but says Legislature should ban LGBTQ discrimination

By: - February 1, 2019 11:55 pm

Dana Nessel addresses the MCRC on Feb. 1, 2019 | Ken Coleman

Attorney General Dana Nessel said during Friday’s Michigan Civil Rights Commission (MCRC) meeting in Detroit that she’s fully prepared to offer an opinion on if LGBTQ people are included in the state’s non-discrimination act.

The MCRC voted last year that the word “sex” in the 1977 landmark Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act does includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Nessel’s predecessor, Republican Bill Schuette, issued a July 2018 opinion disagreeing with that ruling.

MDCR Executive Director Agustin Arbulu listens to Attorney General Dana Nessel | Ken Coleman

“I welcome the opportunity to reevaluate this important issue to ensure all people who live in and visit our state are treated equally and fairly under the law,” said Nessel, a Democrat in a 20-minute presentation.

In a 6-0 vote, the commission approved a resolution directing the Michigan Department of Civil Rights to send a letter to Nessel asking her to reconsider Schuette’s opinion.

Nessel did point out, however, that it would be “great” if the Legislature took action to protect LGBTQ people under Elliot-Larsen. Bills have been proposed, but have never gained traction.

The AG also took the opportunity during her presentation to respond to state House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) who said last week on WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record” that he didn’t support a law banning discrimination against LGBTQs.  

]MCRC members Alma Wheeler Smith, Laura Reyes Kopack, and Ira Combs listen to Attorney General Dana Nessel during Feb. 1, 2019, meeting. | Ken Coleman

“Personally, I don’t believe people should be discriminated against,” Chatfield said. “But at the same time, I’m never going to endorse a law or allow a bill to come for a vote that I believe infringes on someone’s ability to exercise their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

As a private attorney, Nessel represented plaintiffs in a case that became part of the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage. She is also the first openly gay statewide official in Michigan.

“I think that [Chatfield] knows where my stance is on this issue,” said Nessel said Friday. “We have a fundamental disagreement. And I’m really hoping that I have an opportunity to sit down and speak with Speaker Chatfield and to help him to understand and walk around a little bit in the shoes of a LGBTQ person, because if he did that, he’d feel quite differently.”  

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.