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Commentary

Michigan GOP: We're not bigoted against gays – really! But those scary transgender people ...

Jack Lessenberry

There’s a time-honored political technique you might call the “big lie” theory. Basically, it works this way: If you tell the same outrageous lie over and over, no matter how big it is, eventually people will believe that at least some part of it is true.

The latest and best example of this was uttered by one Ari Alder, the mouthpiece for Jase Bolger, the lame-duck speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives. Yesterday, his boss admitted what everybody should already have known: that efforts to expand the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act are going nowhere.

There won’t even be a vote in the Legislature on this. After Bolger admitted this, Adler launched his lie, saying “The extremists on the left were successful in preventing civil rights protections for gays and lesbians in Michigan.”

What they want you to think is that Republicans were all set to protect those folks, but were dragged down by the far left’s insistence on extending civil rights to those scary transgender people.

That’s not at all true – though it is interesting that Republicans today at least don’t want to appear bigoted against gays.

A few years ago, they wouldn’t have worried about that. But here’s what’s really going on here: Prior to the lame duck session, Bolger indicated he might be willing to expand Elliott-Larsen to include “sexual orientation” – in other words, gay and lesbian people.

But the catch was that the speaker said he’d be willing to do so only if it could be coupled with a poison bill, his so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which would have essentially permitted people to discriminate against anyone whose lifestyle they disapproved.

Civil rights supporters would, they knew, never go along with this. Even if they had, I doubt many Republicans would have supported even a meaningless expansion of Elliott-Larsen.

That the game was over was clear last week, when the man who takes over as House speaker next year, Kevin Cotter, said he was in favor of passing the bogus “religious freedom restoration act,” without expanding Elliott-Larsen at all.

However, the cold fact is that supporters of civil rights for gay Americans didn’t lose this battle then.

They lost it Aug. 5, when State Rep. Frank Foster of Petoskey, the only Republican to endorse expanding Elliott Larsen, was beaten in his primary over this very issue.

After that, and after the GOP not only held on to their legislative majorities but increased them, it was clear there was no way there would be any expansion of civil rights for non-heterosexuals.

If there is any silver lining, it is that Republicans now feel compelled to at least pretend they favor civil rights for gays, if not transgender human beings. This also may have been the making of a new career for Frank Foster, who emerged as somewhat of a civil rights hero.

Had he won his primary, he would have probably served out his term as a little-known, back-bench representative.

But for those of different sexual orientation or gender identity, it should be clear that Michigan government will do nothing for you. Not in the next few years, in any event.

For now, their hopes must lie in the federal courts.

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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