Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Monday joined LGBTQ rights leaders to call on the Legislature to send her a bill to expand Michigan’s civil rights law.
She said the alternative could be for GOP leaders to defend their inaction in the face of an initiative on the 2022 ballot.
The governor said, with an allusion to the COVID-19 crisis, that she’s ready to sign a bill, calling it “the right thing to do.”
“The vaccine for discrimination is legislation,” she said. “We’re going to administer it so the state can build back better for all Michiganders.”
Whitmer noted there are House and Senate bills that for the first time have Republican co-sponsors in both chambers, as well as support from many business groups.
“Because the issue isn’t just good for our people, it’s good for our economy,” she said. “It will help us lure talent in from all over the world. In 2021, it’s for us to finally get Michigan on the right side of history.”
The bills would add “sexual orientation, gender identity or expression” to the expansive law that already covers discrimination based on "religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status" … “in employment, housing, education, and access to public accommodations.”
Representative Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) said action on expanding the law is inevitable. She said if the vote were held now, enough Republicans would vote to send a bill to Whitmer’s desk.
“There is going to be a reckoning on this,” she said. “It is going to be taken up one way or another. At this point it’s a ‘choose-your-own adventure’ with the Legislature, to be quite honest.”
The petition signatures gathered by the Fair and Equal Michigan campaign must still be certified by the state Bureau of Elections. If that happens, the Legislature can approve the initiative or it will go on the 2022 statewide ballot.
The Legislature’s GOP leaders say they have concerns about infringing on the religious liberty rights of business owners and managers who don’t believe in expanded LGBTQ rights.
There’s a simultaneous debate in Congress on advancing the Equality Act to add LGBTQ to federal civil rights protections. President Joe Biden has called for the legislation to be adopted and sent to his desk so it can be signed within the first 100 days of his administration.