Senate passes historic LGBTQ+ civil rights protections after 50-year struggle
LGBTQ+ flags fly at the Michigan Capitol near the state Senate building during Michigan Pride in Lansing on June 26, 2022. | Photo by Laina G. Stebbins
A key civil rights bill on Wednesday cleared the Michigan Senate, marking a key step toward solidifying protections for LGBTQ+ Michiganders that advocates have been waiting for decades to see adopted.
Senate Bill 4, which expands the 1973 Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) to protect against discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation, passed in the state Senate with a bipartisan 23-15 vote to a round of applause.
Democrats were joined by state Sens. Joe Bellino (R-Monroe), Ruth Johnson (R-Groveland Twp.) and Michael Webber (R-Rochester Hills) in voting to adopt the bill.
SB 4 will now head to the House, which also is Democratic-controlled. If both chambers pass the bill, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said she’s eager to sign it.
Amid efforts from Republican lawmakers to water down or usurp the bill’s meaning, SB 4 sponsor state Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), the state’s first openly gay senator, stood up and spoke numerous times to push back against their remarks and amendments.
“When you use religion only to discriminate against LGBTQ people, but never to uplift LGBTQ people, I have no interest in putting this language in the Civil Rights Act,” Moss said in response to an amendment from state Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) that sought to add protections for “religious identity and religious expression.”
“The senator keeps opening the door. I’m going to keep walking through it,” Moss said, before the Senate voted down Runestad’s amendment 17-21. Another amendment from Johnson failed 18-20 along party lines.
Other Democratic lawmakers, including state Sens. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak), Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), Sue Shink (D-Ann Arbor) and Veronica Klinefelt (D-Eastpointe) spoke in support of the bill to enshrine LGBTQ+ rights into ELCRA.
They also rebuffed remarks and amendments from Republicans like Johnson and state Sens. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) and Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan).
Among the remarks included a 30-minute speech from McBroom where the Republican invoked scripture, the U.S. Constitution and the Holocaust, debated the sources of evil, spoke out against non-cisgender gender expression and “immoral” behaviors, reflected on self-actualization and claimed that children are being “mutilated and maimed” in what seemed to be a reference to transgender people.
“Our community deserves to thrive,” Moss said. “18 years ago when I was 18 years old, I didn’t know who I was or what I was going to be.
“That year [in 2004], Michigan voted for one of the harshest marriage bans in the country. … I thought I had no future. … What kind of life could I possibly live? Just by existing, my life was unlawful. I’ve come a long way to get here. Our community has come a long way to get here.
“ … It’s time to write the final chapter,” Moss continued, before taking Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist’s space at the podium and gaveling in the final vote on SB 4.
Efforts to add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the classes protected by ELCRA have been ongoing for the past 50 years since the act was enacted. With Democrats now holding power in both legislative chambers for the first time in 40 years, and with a supportive Democratic governor at the helm, those efforts can now come to fruition.
A similar House bill sponsored by state Rep. Jason Hoskins (D-Southfield) was also introduced along with SB 4 last month.
“Today’s vote is a major milestone for equality and sends a powerful message to LGBTQ+ Michiganders that discrimination has no home in our state. There are 29 states that still don’t have codified non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people in our country. Michigan isn’t going to be one of them for much longer,” said Erin Knott, executive director of Equality Michigan.
When you use religion only to discriminate against LGBTQ people, but never to uplift LGBTQ people, I have no interest in putting this language in the Civil Rights Act.
– Bill sponsor state Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield)
The state Supreme Court ruled in July that ELCRA prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Advocates for codifying the protections into law include a wide swath of Michigan groups, business leaders and politicians like Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel.
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