Gov. Whitmer signs bill expanding Michigan civil rights law to include LGBTQ protections

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer expanded Thursday’s state’s civil rights law in order to prohibit discrimination based upon sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. This is a long-awaited change by LGBTQ advocates.

The GOP controlled the Legislature and stalled previous bills that would have added protections to the LGBTQ community for discrimination in housing, employment, education, and public accommodations. These were among the first bills to be reintroduced in the new legislative session, in which Democrats have majorities in the Senate and the state House.

Whitmer referred to it as a “new day” in Michigan, which he said was “long overdue” at a Thursday signing ceremony.

She stated that Michigan is a state that stands up for the fundamental freedoms of people. “I’m proud to be here and I’m excited for our state to stand on the right side in history.

State Senator Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), who introduced the bill — Senate Bill 4 – described the effort to expand Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, (ELCRA) to be a 50-year journey. This is after previous attempts to include LGBTQ persons in the 1976 law that languished in Lansing.

Moss stated, “This baton was passed generation to generation.” “This moment has been a long time coming, and many have suffered along the way to get there.”

This day is finally here for them and us. Equal protection under law.”

All Democratic legislators voted for SB 4 along with three Republican lawmakers from the state Senate, and eight from the state House.

Whitmer, who is currently serving her second term, has repeatedly called on lawmakers to increase the state’s civil right law to protect Michigan’s LGBTQ community.

SB 4 would codify Michigan court decisions that stated that the state’s civil right law provides protections for LGBTQ persons. In December 2020, the Michigan Court of Claims ruled that the civil rights law does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. The Michigan Supreme Court, however, ruled that discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited by the law.

Attorney General Dana Nessel said, “That was an extremely important win.” She said, however, that Michigan had not passed a law to protect the rights of the LGBTQ community until Thursday.

Advocates of expanding ELCRA in order to provide protections for LGBTQ persons in the law state that the change is necessary to stop a future court reaching a different conclusion.

Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan’s LGBTQ+ Project, stated that “with a law that explicitly mandates that LGBTQ persons are to be treated with dignity and equality under ELCRA’s umbrella, a positive court ruling in the future can’t wipe out important progress that’s been made.” Jay Kaplan spoke at a February 2 Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety Committee hearing.

Michigan’s business community has supported expanding ELCRA to protect LGBTQ people. Whitmer argued that the legislation would give Michigan an economic advantage over other states during her State of the State address.

She stated that protecting these freedoms was the right thing to be done and good economics. “States that have extreme laws are losing investment and talent, you know what?” Bigotry is bad news for business.