Michigan’s overall legal climate is still one of discrimination for the gay community. But coming on the heels of a small win for gay rights in the election earlier this month — when voters in Kalamazoo added sexual orientation to a local non-discrimination ordinance — the state legislature may consider bills that, if passed, would amount to significant legal improvements for gay people. While it’s unlikely that the government will reverse the statewide ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage in 2004, principled legislators should recognize that gay people deserve the same marriage rights as everyone else. Bills that reverse this injustice must be passed.

Two separate bills to improve gay rights are currently making their way through the legislature. In the state House of Representatives is a bill that would overturn the 2004 amendment to Michigan’s constitution that prevents spousal benefits from being offered to same-sex couples, including access to health care. Because the bill would overturn a constitutional amendment, it requires a two-thirds vote of approval to pass. And in the state Senate, a bill would update the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976 to include sexual orientation and identification as a protected group under state non-discrimination laws.

There is no excuse for anyone to be denied access to public services based on their sexual orientation or expression. Basic civil rights should extend to everyone, regardless of race, creed, color, nationality or sexual orientation. The fact that sexual orientation hasn’t been included in the state law is symbolic of Michigan’s failure to recognize gay people as deserving of equal rights. Failing to pass the bill updating that act would be a disgrace — one more in Michigan’s line of discriminatory legislation regarding the gay community. The legislature shouldn’t hesitate to pass this bill.

But a more significant victory for gay rights would be the approval of the House bill to legalize same-sex marriage. So long as the statewide same-sex marriage ban remains codified law, Michigan will never be able to say that it is a state that affords all of its citizens equal rights and treats them with dignity. Reversing this should be one of the state’s highest priorities.

Realistically speaking, it may be unlikely that the legislature acts on this bill. As long as a majority of the voters of Michigan appear to cling to backward beliefs about marriage and sexual orientation, politicians will, regrettably, be afraid to cross them. Supporters of gay rights must do their best to demand equality with an even greater fervor and persuade the opponents of same-sex marriage that such a position is intolerant and unjust. And one day, when enough people have opened their eyes to this reality, same-sex marriage will, one way or another, win approval.

But legislators shouldn’t feel the need to wait until that day. They have the opportunity to change state law and end discrimination against gay people. And in a broader sense, they can finally put Michigan on the correct side of one of the most important civil rights struggles of the decade. Both these bills should be put before Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s desk and signed into law.

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