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Michigan campaign to ban sexual orientation discrimination submits signatures

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — A campaign to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Michigan submitted more than 483,000 petition signatures on Tuesday, setting up a potential fight in the state Legislature.

Supporters of Fair and Equal Michigan carried box after box of signed petitions to the front of the Michigan Secretary of State's office in downtown Lansing. The group's president, Trevor Thomas, called Tuesday an important step to "finally right this wrong."

Mike Jespersen of Pinckney helps load boxes of petition signatures for the Fair and Equal Michigan campaign outside the Michigan Secretary of State's office on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020.

"We look forward to having our voices heard in the state Legislature," Thomas said.

"Today we still face, in the LGBTQ community, discrimination in the areas of housing, education, employment and public accommodations and services," Thomas said. "The idea someone can turn you away from a restaurant just for who you are and who you love, we believe that's wrong."

Launched in January, the citizen-initiated 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 for sexual orientation has been debated for years in the state Capitol, with Republican legislative leaders saying they wanted to ban discrimination as long as it would not infringe on religious rights.

After Tuesday's signature submission, election officials will determine if the campaign collected 340,047 valid signatures. That process is expected to take months. If the campaign gathered enough, its proposal would go before the Republican-controlled Legislature. Lawmakers could approve the measure or put it up for a statewide vote in 2022, letting residents decide.

Usually, ballot proposal campaigns in Michigan have 180 days to gather their signatures. But the Michigan Court of Claims essentially granted Fair and Equal Michigan 69 extra days because of restrictions that were in place to combat COVID-19.

Thomas said Tuesday was close to the deadline with the added days.

Fair and Equal Michigan has gathered a wide array supporters including businesses like Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, General Motors Co. and Consumers Energy, and labor groups such as the Michigan Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, previously told The Detroit News that any efforts to expand the civil rights act would be "heavily contested" in the  Legislature unless protections for religious freedom were added.