The Michigan Civil Rights Commission tabled a request in Lansing on Monday night by Equality Michigan for interpretive statement on "sex" in ELCRA. Photo courtesy of Nathan Triplett, EQMI

MCRC 'Barred by the Attorney General from Taking Action'

AG Schuette's Office Says It Will Provide Formal Opinion on Comission's Authority

BY KATE OPALEWSKI

At a meeting of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission in Lansing on Monday night, the commission voted 6-2 to table the request from Equality Michigan to issue a statement interpreting 'sex' in the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Following more than two hours of public comment on both sides of the issue, the commission's legal counsel, Assistant Attorney General Ron Robinson, informed the commission that it is the opinion at the divisional level of his office that the commission does not have the legal right to issue an interpretive statement on this issue, and that it is the role of the legislature to address any changes in law.

"And should the commission issue a ruling contrary to the Attorney General, the commission would give up its governmental immunity and would be subject to a lawsuit," said Robinson during the meeting.

According to EQMI, the interpretative statement being requested would make it clear that anti-LGBT discrimination is unlawful in Michigan, clarifying the legal responsibilities of employers and individuals and giving notice to victims of discrimination that there are remedies available.

After the July meeting where EQMI officially submitted their request, more than 300 individuals and organizations responded on both sides during a month-long public comment period.

Nathan Triplett, director of public policy with EQMI, said the AG's office incorrectly intervened with the commission's authority.

"Once again, Attorney General Bill Schuette has used his position of power and public trust to stand for discrimination and against equality. He put his personal bias and political ambition above the law and the best interest of Michiganders," he said.

As a result of the AG's intervention, Triplett said LGBT Michiganders will continue to be denied a fair hearing. As commission co-chair Rasha Demashkieh stated, "We have been barred by the Attorney General from taking action."

In what the department calls a "scathing statement," Demashkieh added, "This commission has been on record for more than 30 years in support for protecting people's civil rights on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. What happened here tonight has not changed that, but it is quite upsetting that the Attorney General's office would decide at the last moment to issue an opinion that we had been requesting for more than 30 days. Initially their response was to recuse themselves. Then tonight, they tell us we cannot legally issue a statement. It made this meeting a futile exercise."

More than 100 people turned out to the Lansing Center for the meeting.

Jay Kaplan, LGBT Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Michigan, said the organization has received more than 500 complaints of LGBTQ discrimination in employment, housing, education and public accommodations in the past 17 years.

Despite the non-discrimination ordinances in place in more than 40 cities across the state, LGBTQ people can be "fired for being gay, denied an apartment for being lesbian or be refused services for being transgender," he told the commission.

Kaplan said the interpretive statement is important because many of the local ordinances lack remedies provided by state law and municipalities lack resources to adequately investigate discrimination complaints.

As for what's next, the commission requested a formal opinion on the matter from Attorney General Bill Schuette, who announced his campaign for governor last week.

"The Legislature creates laws, not commissions," said Andrea Bitely, a spokeswoman for Schuette, after the meeting.

"The Attorney General's politically-motiated intervention short-circuited our effort today, but ultimately this kind of unity and hard work by pro-equality Michiganders will carry the day," said Triplett, adding that EQMI will be watching closely as the commission submits their request for a formal opinion to the AG's office and continue their efforts to advance equality in the legislature, starting with their Lobby Day on Sept. 28.

"It's important not to lose sight of what Michigan's LGBT community accomplished today. Thirty-eight LGBT and allied organizations came together, organized, and with a unified voice demand action on anti-LGBTQ discrimination," said Triplett.

There are bills pending currently that would also provide LGBT protections. Senate Bill 424, sponsored by Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. House bill 4689, sponsored by Rep. Jon Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo, would also ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

2017 Equality Lobby Day

Sept. 28

Central United Methodist Church

215 N. Capitol Ave., Lansing, MI 48933

8:30 a.m. - Doors open, registration begins

9:00 a.m. - Welcome and training

12:00 p.m. - Lunch is provided

3:00 p.m. - End

Register here: http://bit.ly/eqlobbyday


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