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Canvassers OK petition forms for gay rights measure

Detroit News wire and staff

Lansing — Supporters of amending Michigan’s constitution to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity cleared an initial procedural step.

The Board of State Canvassers approved Tuesday the Fair Michigan ballot committee’s petition form. The group must gather roughly 315,000 valid voter signatures to put the measure on the November statewide ballot.

The state constitution bars discrimination because of religion, race, color or national origin. The amendment would add gender, gender identity, sex and sexual orientation protections.

“This action is a major step toward eliminating job discrimination in Michigan and ensuring everyone is treated equally and fairly” said Richard McClellan, co-chair of Fair Michigan and a Republican Lansing attorney. “This will allow Michiganders to truly take control of an issue that means so much to our shared social and economic future.”

Fair Michigan said it expects to start circulating petitions in January.

The Republican-controlled Legislature has blocked bills to protect gay and transgender residents by updating Michigan’s civil rights law.

“It’s critically important that we can engage Michiganders and allow them the chance and opportunity to update our constitution and properly reflect the values of our state after years of legislative inaction,” said Dana Nessel, co-chair of Fair Michigan and the Detroit attorney who led the case to overturn Michigan’s gay marriage ban through the U.S. Supreme Court.

But gay rights advocates are divided over whether a ballot proposal should be initiated.

AT&T Michigan President Jim Murray, who is gay, told The Detroit News in October that while the community is impatient after an effort to amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act faltered last year in the Legislature, a ballot measure is huge gamble.

“Having setbacks in the Legislature is a lot different than losing a referendum,” said Murray, a former Republican legislative aide. “If you lose at the ballot box, you are finished for decades. There would be a boat load of money spent in opposition with an uncertain outcome. It’s a huge, unacceptable gamble.”

The canvassers also added San Diego car dealer Rocky De La Fuente to the Democratic presidential primary ballot. His campaign said he is the first candidate to secure enough signatures via petition in Michigan history.