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Whitmer signs LGBTQ rights law

Rick Pluta
Former Republican Representative Mel Larsen says he always wanted LGBTQ rights to be included in the civil rights law that’s partially named for him. Governor Gretchen Whitmer stands behind him at the bill-signing ceremony Thursday to expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

LGBTQ protections are now part of Michigan’s civil rights law. Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill Thursday that expands the reach of the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

“I am so proud to be here and I am excited to put our state on the right side of history. You ready? Alright. Let’s do it!” Whitmer said as she prepared to put her signature to the bill. The crowd yelled and applauded as she signed the legislation LGBTQ rights advocates have been seeking since the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act was adopted in 1976.

One of those people was former Republican state Representative Mel Larsen, who co-sponsored the law with Democratic state Representative Daisy Elliott. Elliott died in 2015.

Larsen said expanding the law was He says expanding the law was “long overdue” and pronounced himself “pleased.”

The new law will allow people to file complaints with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights for discrimination in employment, housing, education and access to public accommodations.

Similar bills withered in earlier sessions of the Legislature when one or both of the chambers were controlled by Republicans. Two GOP lawmakers lost re-election bids after sponsoring bills to add LGBTQ rights to the act.

The bill cements in state law a decision last year by the Michigan Supreme Court that LGBTQ rights were already protected in the state. The court held the law‘s protection against discrimination based on “sex” also includes sexual orientation.

Advocates still wanted the law expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity so that decision cannot be reversed by future courts. But this may not be the final word.

David Kallman is an attorney for conservative causes. He expects the new law will be challenged by faith-based organizations.

“If you’re a Catholic church or you’re a mosque or you’re a synagogue, I think you have a right to choose employees who agree with your particular religious faith and under Elliott-Larsen now, with these new categories, they have put in a process to attempt to attack those rights,” he told Michigan Public Radio.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel says she’s ready to defend the law in court if necessary.

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Rick Pluta is the managing editor for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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