Updated Aug 1, 2022 - News

Michigan LGBTQ leaders: Ruling a win, but more protections needed

Illustration of the US eagle seal holding the rainbow flag.
Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

LGBTQ leaders are celebrating while seeking a more permanent solution after a win in the state Supreme Court.

Catch up quick: The Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act bars discrimination in housing, employment and other areas on the basis of race, age, sex and more in Michigan. Advocates have sought to add LGBTQ identity to that list for decades.

  • In a historic decision on Thursday, the court interpreted the term "sex" in the current law as including sexual orientation. A lower court ruling means it also applies to gender identity.

What it means: Refusing to hire, serve or provide education to someone for being gay, lesbian, transgender or otherwise queer is now prohibited.

Yes, but: Supreme Court decisions are merely "moments in time" and can be overturned as courts change, as the U.S. saw with Roe V. Wade, state Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) tells Axios.

What's next: Moss, the Senate's only openly gay member, wants to change the law so it can't be interpreted back. He plans to push a legislative change again this fall naming sexual orientation and gender identity as explicitly protected under Elliott-Larsen. He's hopeful the ruling will compel new action.

  • Moss says he has the votes, but it's tough to bring the measure to the table because Republican Senate leadership is "out of step" — more conservative — than the rest of the body.

The intrigue: The ruling is also a cause for celebration for many. Curtis Lipscomb, executive director of nonprofit LGBT Detroit, told Axios Friday he felt like the finale of the 1978 film "The Wiz" — which features a song called "Brand New Day" with joyous singing and dancers leaping onto tables.

  • "Michigan has been unsafe for a lot of people … today everything is changed," he said.

What they're saying: Advocates including Erin Knott of Equality Michigan and Jay Kaplan with the ACLU claim last week's news makes Michigan the first state where its high court has comprehensively applied the landmark 2020 federal LGBTQ civil rights decision to its own laws.

Quick take: Discrimination will continue, but now people have firm legal ground to fight it in court. Expect more legal services to crop up — and cases to be won — around evictions, firings and more.

The other side: The Michigan Catholic Conference said in a statement to the Free Press that the ruling could hurt their constitutional right to "religious liberty."

  • Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey agreed with the conference in a statement to the Free Press.
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