A recent Gallup poll revealed glaring discrepancies between public perception and the realities of anti-discrimination laws in the state of Michigan. While nine out of 10 people mistakenly believe protections exist for members of the LGBTQ community, current laws are disgracefully outdated and do not encompass guarantees for LGBTQ citizens. The Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act — Michigan’s anti-discrimination law — provides protection to individuals on the basis of numerous categories. Yet, individuals who identify as — or are even suspected of being — homosexual, transgendered or bisexual continue to face the unjust possibility of being denied employment, housing or access to public accommodations. To ensure the equality and fundamental rights of all members of the state, Michigan needs to amend the ELCRA to be more inclusive.
As a result of Michigan’s “at-will” law, employers don’t need to provide a justification for firing an employee. Similarly, the absence of protections under the ELCRA allows LGBTQ members to be denied access to restaurants and hotels. Michigan’s lack of protections demonstrates that the state’s legislation is archaic compared to the advancements in many parts of the country. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced in February that the Obama administration’s decision to extend equal rights to legally married same-sex couples in federal matters. Likewise, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is outlawed in 21 states and the District of Columbia, with 17 states instituting protections on the basis of gender identity.
While a sizable portion of the United States is proactive in its efforts to guarantee equality, Michigan currently possesses a subpar set of protections. Select municipalities in the state — all of which are located in the lower peninsula of Michigan — enforce LGBTQ protections for citizens at the local level. However, these laws vary greatly between cities on both the type of discrimination and the identities they protect. Citizens shouldn’t need to worry about whether their rights will be encroached upon or denied if they leave a particular city and travel elsewhere in the state. Unified and comprehensive legislation is needed in order to ensure the rights of all Michigan citizens.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder needs to stop relying on local governments to handle these issues and should instead push state legislators to create a comprehensive plan. Earlier this year, Snyder was reported to have had “a number of other things … as priorities” when he was questioned about his lack of a stance on issues such as LGBTQ employment discrimination and gay marriage. Michigan can’t continue to allow a portion of its citizens to suffer under unfair legislation. The state should follow in the steps of California and Massachusetts, which guarantee LGBTQ members equal access to housing, employment, government services, marriage and adoption rights.
At a time when the rest of the country is moving forward and growing more open to equal rights for LGBTQ members of society, Michigan is severely lagging behind. Granting full equality protection to LGBTQ citizens is an initiative a majority of voters approve of. Updating the ELCRA will help Michigan become more inclusive and propel the state into a leadership role in the battle for equal rights.