July 10, 2014 at 4:45 pm

GOP Senate majority leader supports anti-discrimination law to cover gays

Lansing— Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said Thursday he personally supports expanding Michigan’s anti-discrimination law to cover sexual orientation.

The Monroe Republican indicated “it would be possible to start the discussion as early as September” on introducing such legislation to amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, Richardville spokeswoman Amber McCann said Thursday. His initial comments came during a Thursday morning taping of “Off the Record,” the Michigan Public Television show hosted by Tim Skubick.

“Hatred’s a bad thing,” Richardville said.

But the prospects for introducing and approving such legislation this year seem problematic. House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, welcomed Richardville’s support for expanding gay rights while indicating he hasn’t found a surefire way to expand Michigan’s law while protecting the religious freedom of those who oppose homosexuality.

“Speaker Bolger remains committed to finding a resolution that provides protection for personal liberties while defending religious rights,” Bolger spokesman Ari Adler said in a Thursday statement.

“He is finding that as his discussions with people continue, there is still no one who can provide a solution with the proper balance. Having more people join the discussion is encouraging because it means we may find what we’re looking for, so the majority leader’s participation is most welcome.”

Before the Legislature adjourned for its summer recess in mid-June, Richardville had said he wanted to take a close look at the issue before deciding whether to hold a vote.

The Senate majority leader’s support comes after Gov. Rick Snyder in late May backed the idea of a legislative debate on whether Michigan should protect gays and lesbians from workplace discrimination.

The Republican governor made his comments at the Mackinac Policy Conference, sponsored by the Detroit Regional Chamber, as three corporate heavyweights — Chrysler Group LLC, Kellogg Co. and Pfizer — joined a coalition to lobby lawmakers to make it illegal to discriminate against someone based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

But Snyder stopped short of fully endorsing a change to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, a 38-year-old law that bans denying someone a job or housing opportunity based on their religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status or marital status.

“I’m not taking a position on the actual issue at this point, but saying let’s get it in front of the Legislature, let’s have a dialogue and discussion, and hopefully get some resolution on this issue,” Snyder said at the conference on Mackinac Island.

Prospects of passing such legislation seem uncertain with incumbent lawmakers up for re-election in November. Many in the Republican legislative majority face challenges from conservative tea party candidates in the Aug. 5 primary election.

GHeinlein@detroitnews.com
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