Snyder Encourages Legislature To Take Up Amending State Civil Rights Act

BTL Staff Report

May 29, at the Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference, Gov. Rick Snyder came out in support of an amendment to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) to include language on sexual orientation and gender identity protections.

"I don't believe in discrimination," Snyder said in an interview with Crain's Detroit Business writer Chris Gautz. "I hope that's something the legislature will take up sometime this year."

Changing the law will make it illegal for an employee to be denied employment or fired for being gay. It's been a long time coming. Currently the law prohibits employment, public accommodations, public services, education and housing discrimination based on race, religion, color, national origin, sex, age, marital status, weight, height and arrest records but it doesn't include sexual orientation and gender identity protections.

House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) told the Detroit News that he welcomed the governor's stance. However, Bolger said he was still researching how to find a way to balance religious liberty issues with employment and housing protections for LGBT Michiganders.

"It's a difficult balance to strike, but it's an absolutely necessary balance to find," Bolger told the Detroit News.

MLive reported that Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) is interested in looking at amending the 30 year old law.

"The intent when it was created, I think, was to eliminate hatred and discriminating against somebody for something that has nothing to do with their job qualifications," Richardville said. "Sexual orientation has nothing to do with job qualifications, so I'd consider it. There may be other things we have to consider adding as well."

Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing welcomed Snyder's support Thursday in a backhanded way.

"I do not know if we have the business community, the election year or an honest ideological progression to thank, but I am glad to see that the governor is finally on board with offering basic civil rights protections to all Michigan citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity," Whitmer said in a statement, noting Snyder has opposed domestic partner benefits for state employees and gay marital equality.

The move comes weeks after business leaders launched an effort to push the legislature to pass the amendments.

Present at the policy conference were President and CEO of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Congress, Rick Baker and President and CEO of the Detroit Chamber, Sandy Baruah who both came out in support of changing the law. According to Crain's Detroit they announced that their chambers were joining the Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition in advocating for a change in legislation.

"Michigan's business community is sending a very clear message about the importance of workforce diversity to our state's future," Baruah said in a statement. "We are in a global war for talent, and need the best and brightest workforce to compete in the 21st century economy, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. We are committed to a Michigan where all are free and welcome to contribute to our economic comeback."

The Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition and Business Leaders for Michigan spearhead the push to end employment discrimination. Other companies who have come out in support of the ELCRA amendment include: Chrysler Group LLC, Google, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Consumers Energy, Herman Miller, PDNOS, Steelcase, Strategic Staffing Solutions, Whirlpool Corp, Clark Hill PLC, Irwin Seating Company, Issue Media Group, Kellogg Company, Pfizer, Professional Property Management, Dow, AT&T and Slow's Bar BQ.

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