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Supreme Court hears arguments in LGBTQ civil rights case

Michigan Supreme Court
Photo by larrysphatpage, Flickr
The Michigan Supreme Court

It is now up to the Michigan Supreme Court to decide whether the state’s civil rights law offers protections against discrimination for LGBTQ people in in employment, housing, education and public accommodations.

The court heard the case Wednesday, and attorneys’ arguments covered personal freedoms, religious rights, constitutional processes, and the meaning of the word “sex.”

Attorney General Dana Nessel personally argued the case. She said the word “sex” in the anti-discrimination law covers sexual orientation and gender identity. That was in defense of a position taken by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission.

Nessel said afterward that specific result may have been unforeseen when the law was adopted in 1976, but the law is meant to provide sweeping anti-discrimination protections.

“The thing is, there’s a difference between un-anticipated consequences and, you know, un-expected consequences,” she said in a call with reporters.

Nessel said her arguments fit within the plain meaning of the words in the law as it was adopted by lawmakers in 1977.

“We look at their words, and we believe that the Legislature speaks through its language, and they mean what they say and say what they meant. What they said here is ‘sex,’ and, again, sex includes sexual orientation and gender identity,” she said.

But two businesses argued the opposite side – that the civil rights commission is stretching the meaning of the law beyond what the Legislature intended.

Attorney David Kallman said in an interview with Michigan Public Radio that the civil rights commission’s action amounts to amending the law without legislative approval.

“The issue here happens to be sexual orientation and all that, but it could be any other number of possible issues,” he said. “The civil rights commission can’t just make things up, and they can’t enforce them on the citizens of Michigan. They have to go through the Legislature.”

Kallman said the Legislature has had plenty of opportunities to specifically add LGBTQ protections to the civil rights law and has chosen not to do so.

A wedding venue and an electrolysis clinic also say they have religious freedom rights to refuse service to LGBTQ clients.

A decision in the case is expected before the court’s term wraps up at the end of July.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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