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Commentary

What they really want is freedom to discriminate against people they don't like

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Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it. Members of the LBGT community – lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered – have wanted the Legislature to take up expanding the state’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

They persuaded themselves that the Republicans who have majorities in the state Legislature would, in the lame-duck session next month, expand its protections to include them. Some took this as a given, although they were worried that the bill might include sexual orientation and not gender identity.

Yesterday, one Michelle Fox-Phillips wrote and asked me to tell people that excluding transsexuals from any expansion of the civil rights act would be wrong.

Well, it became clear yesterday that she has been living in a dream world. Most Republicans have absolutely no interest in expanding civil rights protections to the non-heterosexual. They are either part of the religious right, or depend on it for money and votes.

The one Republican representative who took a stand in favor of expanding Elliott-Larsen, Frank Foster of Petoskey, was defeated in his primary over this very issue.

Yesterday, reality became clear. A few weeks ago, lame-duck Speaker of the House Jase Bolger seemed to indicate he might be in favor of expanding Elliott-Larsen in exchange for a so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

You might be baffled by that. I mean, you probably haven’t seen any bullies on your street trying to prevent you from joining the Methodist Church, have you? Or even your local mosque?

No, what proponents of this bill really want is the freedom to discriminate against people they don’t like, mostly, gay, lesbian, and transgendered people.

Well, now we’ve heard from new Speaker-elect Kevin Cotter. As one Democratic representative told me recently, he is more conservative than Bolger, and a whole lot smarter. Yesterday, he said he is not in favor of expanding Elliott-Larsen, but would be in favor of the so-called religious freedom bill, HB 5958.

ACLU lawyers tell me this bill would allow an employer to fire someone who is gay, or pregnant and unmarried, on “religious” grounds. Cotter said, “For me, it is a question of can we gain some religious liberties potentially without the Elliott-Larsen.”

By the way, if the Republicans want to pass this bill, they have the votes, and they will have even more votes next year. They can do what they want. The only real question is whether Gov. Rick Snyder would sign such a bill.

He’s not saying, but he usually has gone along with social conservatives. And I’d bet my hubcaps that if he has to sign this to get funding for road repair, he will.

Speaking of which, House Speaker Bolger yesterday floated an alternative road plan which would tie road and school spending, not to any gas tax, but to a percentage of the sales tax based on the rather naive belief that the economy will keep expanding forever.

This is, well, nuts. State Rep. Brandon Dillon, D-Grand Rapids, said:

“I can’t imagine there’s many people who think just funding schools (and roads) based on faith-based economics is a good idea.”

Well, guess what, Mr. Dillon: Your speaker does.

Elections have consequences. And they’ve only just begun.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. You can read his essays online at michiganradio.org. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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