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Michigan board OKs petition language to ban discrimination against gays

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Delta Township — Petitions aiming to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity could be circulated as early as this weekend, an initiative organizer said Tuesday.

Trevor Thomas, co-chair of the Fair and Equal Michigan campaign, made the statement after the Board of State Canvassers unanimously approved a 94-word summary of the group's proposals for the petitions, a procedural step that essentially allows the committee to begin printing its petitions and gathering signatures.

"Today was an important step in the 37 years we've all been waiting to be able to get to this point to prohibit discrimination of LGBTQ people in Michigan," Thomas said after the board's decision.

The Board of State Canvassers approved petition language from Fair and Equal Michigan on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. The group seeks to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Michigan.

Fair and Equal Michigan, a coalition of business executives, political activists and nonprofit leaders, launched a campaign to initiate legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity on Jan. 7.

The group needs to collect 340,047 valid petition signatures by May 27. If it succeeds, the coalition's proposed policy to prohibit bias against gay and transgender residents — a long-debated reform — could end up on the statewide Nov. 3 ballot for voters to decide.

The citizen-initiated ballot measure seeks an expansion of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, a 1976 law that already bars discrimination based on religion, race, age, sex and other attributes. The expansion has been debated for years in the state Capitol, with Republican legislative leaders saying they wanted to ban discrimination, but only as long as it would not infringe on religious rights.

The campaign is "laser focused" on making sure it has the resources to succeed, Thomas said.

"We have put in a place a strong paid signature operation that compliments a volunteer operation to take us from today all the way to May 27," he said.

cmauger@detroitnews.com