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Court rules civil rights law prohibits discrimination by sexual orientation and gender identity

Rainbow flag, often associated with the LGBT movement
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Flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM
LGBT rainbow flag flapping in the sun

Michigan’s civil rights law includes protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity under a landmark decision Thursday by the Michigan Supreme Court.

The 1976 Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act covers discrimination in employment, education, housing and public accommodations. Among other things, it includes protections against discrimination based on sex. And a majority of a divided court held that includes protections for LGBT people.

“Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily constitutes discrimination because of sex,” wrote Justice Elizabeth Clement in the majority opinion.

The decision was 5-2, with the minority arguing the court stepped outside the specific boundaries of the law.

“And this Court’s duty is to say what the law is, not what it thinks the law ought to be. But this is exactly what a majority of this Court has done here,” wrote Justice Brian Zahra in a dissent.

Clement, a Republican-nominated justice, was joined in her majority opinion by three Democrat-nominated justices. Zahra was joined by another Republican-nominated justices.

The court ruled against a Sturgis wedding venue that refused to allow same-sex marriage ceremonies and against a hair removal clinic refused to accept a transitioning woman as a client.

Neither party's attorney's responded to requests for comment from the Michigan Public Radio Network.

Attorney General Dana Nessel, Michigan’s first openly gay statewide elected official, applauded the court's decision. She also helped argue the case.

“No longer will businesses, employers, retailers, educational institutions, landlords, realtors or others be permitted to discriminate against a person in Michigan based on their sexual orientation or their gender identity,” Nessel said.

“At long last, we have protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in so many different areas that we ever did before, and it is a great feeling, let me say.”

The civil rights act covers 10 protected classifies including race, religion, weight, marital status, and sex. But the Legislature has long ignored efforts to add specific LGBT rights language to the law.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer was also among those who cheered the ruling.

“Today, Michigan is more free and fair than it was yesterday,” she said in a statement released by her office.

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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