LANSING, Mich. – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation Thursday codifying LGBTQ protections into the state's civil rights law, permanently outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in the state.
The legislation follows a state Supreme Court ruling last year that the Michigan’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which outlaws discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and education on the basis of sex, extended to sexual orientation as well.
Whitmer’s signature Thursday ensures that the high court’s ruling cannot be reversed in the future and goes one step further in extending protections to include gender identity or expression. It comes at a time, Whitmer said, when there's a “nationwide assault on our LGBTQ-plus community, especially our trans neighbors, family and friends.”
“There are state legislatures across this country dedicating themselves to legalizing discrimination,” Whitmer said. “In Michigan, we will keep expanding freedoms and getting things done on the issues that actually make a difference in people’s lives.”
Democrats took full control of the state government this year for the first time in 40 years and have worked quickly to undo decades of Republican measures. The Michigan Legislature advanced a repeal of the state's “right-to-work” law earlier this week. On Thursday, the Senate passed an 11-bill gun safety package.
Michigan was previously one of 29 states that did not have laws explicitly protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination, according to the gay rights group the Human Rights Campaign, and Michigan Democrats made it a top priority this year after seeing the effort blocked by Republicans for years.
The Michigan House and Senate passed the LGBTQ protections earlier this month with the large majority of Republicans voting in opposition, claiming that it could infringe on religious groups’ rights.
The bill's sponsor, Jeremy Moss, the state's first openly gay state senator, said Thursday that amending the state's civil rights act to include LGBTQ protections has been 40 years in the making. “This baton has been passed from generation to generation,” he said.
The Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act also prohibits discrimination based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status and marital status.
Former Republican Rep. Mel Larsen, who helped author the civil rights act alongside Democratic Rep. Daisy Elliott in 1976, attended the bill signing in Lansing and said the “original intent, and the intent still, is that every citizen of Michigan has the right to be protected under the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act.”
The anti-discrimination legislation also comes at a time when advocates for LGBTQ rights say Republican-led states across the country are trying to erase the legal existence of people who are trans and to restrict the expression of those who are nonbinary, gender-fluid or who perform in drag.
Earlier this month, Tennessee became the first state to severely limit drag show performances as other Republican-led states consider similar measures. An increasing number of states have also banned, or are considering banning, gender-affirming medical care for young people.