An LGBTQ rights group has asked the Michigan Civil Rights Commission to interpret a current prohibition on sex discrimination to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.
The commission seeks public feedback through Tuesday as it prepares to deal with a request from Equality Michigan, which cited recent federal court cases that had concluded the word "sex" applies to both gender and biological differences that distinguish men from women.
People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning or queer in Michigan are currently not protected by the 1976 Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. This means they can be legally discriminated against in housing, employment and public accommodations.
Nathan Triplett of Equality Michigan said an interpretive statement could clear up a "glaring ambiguity" in the law and have "essentially the same effect as amending the statute directly." It would also allow individuals to file sex discrimination complaints with the commission on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.
"We feel strongly that after 30 years of attempting to get the Legislature to acknowledge discrimination is a problem in our state, and 30 years of (gay and transgender people) not having a remedy when they face discrimination, this incremental step is an important one to take while we continue to work" on legislation, Triplett said.
The request has been backed by a coalition of groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, Affirmation of Ferndale and LGBT Detroit, who point to a growing number of federal policies and court rulings that have applied existing sex discrimination protections to people who identify as transgender and gay.
Republican Rep. Gary Glenn of Midland said that by expanding the interpretation of sex discrimination, the commission would be "exercising law-making authority" the state Constitution reserves for elected officials.
"So-called 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity' laws in other states and jurisdictions have proven themselves to be discriminatory and punitive against individuals, churches and civic organizations which believe as a matter of sincere religious conviction homosexual behavior is wrong," Glenn said.
A Senate bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Rebekah Warren of Ann Arbor would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
The commission is expected to address the advocacy group's request at a Sept. 18 meeting in Lansing.