Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has signed a law into effect protecting LGBTQ people from being discriminated against in housing, employment, education, and public accommodations.
On Thursday, Whitmer signed Senate Bill 4, introduced by State Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), which expands the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include LGBTQ individuals, prohibiting instances of discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
“Michigan is a state where we stand up for people’s fundamental freedoms,” Whitmer said during a bill-signing ceremony in which she hailed the measure as a symbol of “a new day” for the state’s LGBTQ residents, reports the Detroit Free Press.
“I am so proud to be here, and I’m excited to put our state on the right side of history,” added Whitmer, who advocated for such a law when she served in the legislature from 2006 to 2015.
Moss noted that equality advocates have spent the better part of five decades advocating for an expansion of civil rights protections, only to see those efforts stymied in Lansing.
This was, in part, due to reticence by Republicans — who controlled the legislature for 40 years prior to November — to embrace the cause of LGBTQ equality, for fear of offending religious and socially conservative voters.
“The baton has been passed generation to generation,” Moss said. “This moment is so long overdue, and too many suffered on the journey to get here. For them and for us, this day has finally arrived. Equal protection under the law.”
While courts have previously found that the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act already protects LGBTQ people from discrimination, the new law explicitly cements those protections into law.
It provides clarity to local elected officials, businesses, and the state’s Civil Rights Commission, the latter of which will deal with enforcement of the law and investigate complaints of discrimination.
The Civil Rights Commission ruled back in 2018 that LGBTQ people were protected by the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, but the ruling rankled conservatives, who accused the unelected commissioners of pulling an end-run around the legislature and overstepping their power.
In 2020, the Michigan Court of Claims found the law’s prohibitions on discrimination based on “sex” — even prior to passage of SB 4 — prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender identity, while the Michigan Supreme court ruled last year that the law prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
LGBTQ advocates celebrated the signing of the law.
“On behalf of our community, I want to extend my sincere gratitude to the Governor and all of Michigan’s elected officials for standing up for what’s right and never backing down from a bully,” praised Equality Michigan Executive Director Erin Knott.
The Trevor Project, the nation’s top suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ people, called the new law “a beacon of hope” that “sends a powerful message of acceptance to LGBTQ people across the nation.”
“At The Trevor Project, we work every day to protect the lives of LGBTQ youth, and days like today prove that in generations to come, both their legal and lived equality will no longer be fodder for political debate,” Troy Stevenson, the director of state advocacy campaigns for The Trevor Project, said in a statement. “We applaud the elected leaders, advocates and Gov. Whitmer for making this a reality, and affirming the dignity and rights of LGBTQ Michiganders by codifying these protections into law.”