Whitmer Bars LGBT Discrimination, Nixes Religious Exemption
Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday signed a new directive to prohibit LGBT-based discrimination in state services or by state contractors, replacing a narrower order that her Republican predecessor issued days before he left office.
Whitmer's directive, like one signed by Gov. Rick Snyder in late December, says state contracts, grants and loans must include a requirement that the contractor or recipients not discriminate against workers or job applicants — including by considering their "sex," which the Michigan Civil Rights Commission last year interpreted in the state's civil rights law to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Her order, unlike Snyder's, does not include an exemption for religious organizations that receive state money.
"If we're going to attract the talented workforce our businesses need to create jobs and grow our economy, then we've got to get on the right side of history," Whitmer said in a statement. She signed the directive at Affirmations, an LGBT community center in Ferndale, a hub of metropolitan Detroit's LGBT community.
State government was already barred from discriminating in employment, including on the basis of a person's sexual orientation and gender identity. Whitmer's order also bans such discrimination in the provision of state services to the public and directs department and agency leaders to designate an individual as an equity and inclusion officer.
"This is a great thing that she's done. It's really helped take a big step forward toward fair and equal treatment for LGBT people," said Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan's LGBT Project.
He said the move hopefully will provide momentum to change the civil rights law to make clear that LGBT-based discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations is illegal — a call echoed by Democratic lawmakers. The Republican-led Legislature last considered bills to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2014, when a business-backed push died after a dispute between Republicans and Democrats over whether to include specific protections for gays and lesbians but not for transgender people.
Kaplan said Snyder's short-lived directive was "very problematic" because it allowed religious employers doing business with the state to discriminate, including adoption and foster care agencies offering non-ministerial services. Groups such as Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services are paid by the state to place children from troubled families with new families, either through adoption or foster care. But a 2015 law says they are not required to provide services that conflict with their beliefs.
New Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat and Michigan's first openly gay statewide officeholder, has said she probably will not defend the law that is being challenged in federal court by the ACLU on behalf of same-sex couples.
"This action is deeply personal to me and I am grateful that Governor Whitmer has made anti-discrimination one of her top priorities in her first several days in office," Nessel said in a statement. "This is a step in the right direction and I am hopeful that soon our state laws will also reflect the paradigm of equal protection under the law for all Michiganders."