LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Republicans on Nov. 12 proposed a long-awaited bill to prohibit discrimination against gays, though chances dimmed for legislative approval of the measure because of concerns that transgender people would not be protected.
Sponsored by Rep. Frank Foster of Petoskey and backed by House Speaker Jase Bolger, the bill would update Michigan’s civil rights law to include sexual orientation but not — as gay rights advocates and Democrats want — gender identity. Under state law, it is illegal to discriminate based on religion, race, sex and other factors in employment, housing, public accommodations, schools and colleges.
Another newly introduced measure with better odds in the GOP-controlled Legislature is a Michigan version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits the government from burdening the exercise of religion without a compelling interest.
“Nobody should be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or religious beliefs,” Bolger, the bill’s sponsor, told reporters.
A coalition of business leaders and others has been lobbying to add legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as a way to attract talent to Michigan. Democrats in September introduced legislation to do so when Republicans delayed their own bills, in part because of a dispute over whether to include both sexual orientation and gender identity protections.
Bolger, of Marshall, said an existing prohibition against sex-based discrimination already shields transgender residents. But critics, including Democrats whose votes likely would be needed to send an anti-gay discrimination bill to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, said it should be “fully inclusive” for the LGBT community.
“To bring forward a bill that doesn’t do that is setting us backwards, and I’d rather us take this to the vote of the people if this Legislature is not courageous enough to do the right thing,” said Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing.
The two GOP bills are not tied together, which means Republicans could still approve the religious liberty legislation if the sexual orientation measure stalls.