Gay marriage case may affect discrimination bill
Lansing – — Gov. Rick Snyder hopes to resuscitate legislation that would protect gay and transgender residents from discrimination, while LGBT advocates explore asking voters to pass the bill since it's unlikely to clear the GOP-led Legislature.
In his State of the State speech, the Republican governor called for continued discussion over amending Michigan's civil rights law to prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents in employment, housing and places open to the public.
"Let's show that we can deal with issues of discrimination in our state," Snyder said, drawing applause from Democrats and some Republicans.
But after Tuesday's address, new GOP House Speaker Kevin Cotter of Mount Pleasant told reporters that he sees no need for more debate after the business-backed legislation stalled in November without a vote.
The U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision to take up constitutional challenges to a gay marriage ban in Michigan, however, may intensify pressure on lawmakers from both the LGBT community and social conservatives.
"You could have a situation where people are allowed to get married in a state but will lose their jobs if they were to come out publicly or let it be known that they got married to a same-sex partner," said Sommer Foster, director of political advocacy for Equality Michigan.
Until a year ago, she said, every state where same-sex marriage is legal also had anti-discrimination protections for gays. But as a wave of lower courts ruled quickly in favor of gay marriage rights, many now allow same-sex marriage yet don't have non-discrimination policies.
"The impending Supreme Court decision makes it even more urgent," Foster said.
Realistic about the yet-to-be-reintroduced bill's future, the organization is studying whether a 2016 ballot measure is an option and if enough money can be raised for a signature-gathering and advertising campaign.
A final decision will be made in six to 12 months. There has never been a statewide vote in any state on such a measure, Foster said.
A September poll conducted for The Detroit News and WDIV-TV by the Glengariff Group showed 74 percent of 600 likely state voters were in support of making it illegal to fire or deny housing to someone because he or she is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Eighteen percent were in opposition, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Some supporters of a proposed state version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act also say their effort to shield a person's sincerely held beliefs from government overreach could be more vital given the Supreme Court's approaching gay marriage ruling — which is expected by the end of June. The proposed law, which died in the Republican-controlled Senate in December after being passed by the House, was reintroduced the same day as Snyder's State of the State address.
"We're very hopeful it will get a warmer reception," said Tom Hickson, vice president for public policy and advocacy at the Michigan Catholic Conference, which has lobbied for the legislation for at least 15 years. "I don't see any reason to think that this isn't something that's going to have certainly some robust discussions."
Backers of the Michigan religious liberty bill point to cases such as a suburban Denver baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding and is fighting an order requiring him to serve gay couples against his religious beliefs.
During the recent lame-duck session, Snyder expressed concern with enacting religious liberty legislation if it didn't coincide with also updating the 1976 Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D- Flint, said he hopes the GOP majority decides against pursuing the religious freedom bill.
"I'm hopeful that they'll realize that we need to be finding solutions that help all Michigan families, not pandering to ideologues within each of our parties," he said.
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