LANSING — While leaders of the Republican majority in the Legislature say there will be no vote on the issue before the Nov. 3 election, Democrats have introduced a proposal to add sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
The law already applies to discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on race, religion, sex, age, marital status, height and weight.
Sponsors of the Democrats’ bill include Sens. Rebekah Warren of Ann Arbor, Glenn Anderson of Westland, Steven Bieda of Warren, Virgil Smith of Detroit and Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing.
Michigan is one of 29 states that don’t expressly protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees from discrimination in the workplace. The proposal is intended to protect them from being fired, paid unfairly, or otherwise discriminated against due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
But James Muffett, president of the Citizens for Traditional Values, said the change would have unintended consequences for small businesses and religious groups. He also said the wording of the bill is too vague, calling it “bad law.”
“The problem we have in the debate,” Muffett said, “is that there doesn’t seem to be a huge problem in Michigan with people being fired because of their sexual orientation.” He added that many companies, especially larger businesses, already have inclusive non-discrimination policies.
“I don’t want discrimination on either side,” Muffet said. “The problem is that we have two rights in conflict, and adding more laws will only exacerbate that conflict.”
Rob Fowler, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan, said he is concerned about the possible impact the changes could have on small businesses. SBAM opposes the bill, but its board will meet Oct. 16 to revisit the issue.
“In many ways, this is a solution without a problem,” Fowler said. “The additions to the Elliott-Larsen Act over the years have put barriers in place to being a small business owner.”
Fowler said an employer should be able to hire and fire solely based on people’s skills and how well they fit into the work dynamic.
However, Sommer Foster, director of political advocacy for Equality Michigan, said the organization is pleased with the proposed changes. In a statement, Foster cited increasing discrimination against LGBTs based on their gender identity.
“This business community and faith leaders have made clear that discrimination is not a Michigan value. It’s time to protect all of our citizens and to move Michigan forward,” Foster said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan also supports the potential change.
“Treating people differently based on who they are is discrimination — plain and simple,” Executive Director Kary Moss said. “We now have an opportunity to update the law and ensure that Michiganders can’t be fired, evicted or refused services just because they are gay or transgender.”
Gov. Rick Snyder has said he supports this kind of legislation, but he has not said whether he would sign the bill.
The bill was referred to the Government Operations Committee.