Among the many disappointments of last November’s election was Michigan voters’ overwhelming support for Proposal 2, a ballot initiative turned constitutional amendment that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. In response, state Rep. Chris Kolb (D-Ann Arbor) has decided to push forward an amendment to the Elliot-Larsen Act, Michigan’s anti-discrimination statute, to ban discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals based on their sexual orientation. During the campaign, proponents of Proposal 2 claimed the amendment was only about “protecting marriage” and not overt discrimination. This proposed legislation provides an opportunity for state legislators who supported Proposal 2 to stand by their campaign-season assurances and guarantee that sexual orientation cannot be considered legitimate grounds for discrimination in the state of Michigan.
Prior to Nov. 2, opponents of Proposal 2 argued that the policy was a Trojan horse that would go far beyond defining marriage. They felt that in addition to defining a marriage between a man and a woman, Proposal 2’s ambiguous language would bar civil unions, eliminate benefits given to same-sex couples and hurt collective bargaining rights for LGBT workers. Proponents of Proposal 2 rejected this view, arguing instead that “traditional marriage” was under attack, and something had to be done to protect it. A position statement by Citizens for the Protection of Marriage, an organization that strongly supported the proposal, posited that “marriage should be honored and respected as a sacred institution whose history dates before the church, the government or the Constitution.” The organization explicitly stated, “We are not against anyone. We are for defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Period.”
Given these disappointments, Kolb’s amendment to the Elliot-Larsen Act offers an excellent opportunity for those who advocated Proposal 2 to demonstrate that they support legal equality for all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation. If supporters of Proposal 2 truly bear no ill-will toward citizens of different sexual orientations, they should welcome Kolb’s legislation. The Elliot-Larsen Act, as currently written, protects Michigan citizens against discrimination on a wide variety of categories, from race and gender to height and weight. Adding sexual orientation to the list of protected categories should not be a controversial move.
While Proposal 2 was ostensibly about protecting marriage, it appeared to many that its passage signified a more general hostility toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. By passing Kolb’s proposed amendment, the state Legislature could send a clear message that it values the protection of the legal equality of all citizens regardless of sexual orientation. Sadly, Kolb did not receive a hearing on a similar measure introduced during the last legislative session, and it is doubtful whether he will have better luck this time. The prospect that the Republican-controlled state Legislature will continue to allow discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation to be legal makes one wonder whether Proposal 2 was, in fact, only about marriage.