Michigan-based lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocacy groups say they are relieved after an area senator agreed to drop a controversial exemption from a much-criticized anti-bullying law.
As the Religion News Service is reporting, Michigan Senator Rick Jones, a Republican, said he would drop his previously inserted carve-out for "a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction" which many believed could allow LGBT, Muslim or other minorities to face harassment. Jones now says he will vote for the state's House of Representatives' version of the bill, which did not include the additional provision and requires all public, charter and intermediate school districts to implement the policy.
Though a spokesman for Equality Michigan, an LGBT rights group in Detroit, praised the changes, he was nonetheless pessimistic about the bill's overall impact. "We are grateful that this legislation moves forward without the license to bully based on an outrageous religious exception, but that said, it won't be effective," he said. Echoing those sentiments was Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who said Muslims were “relieved” that the Senate bill, which he believed "would have been a disaster," is likely dead.
The Senate version of the bill -- named "Matt's Safe School Law" in honor of Matt Epling, a Michigan teen who committed suicide in 2002 after being bullied -- received a stinging reception from Senator Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat. A video of her dramatic floor speech, in which she slammed the bill as a "blueprint for bullying," went viral last week.
Also expressing distate with the new law was Epling's father Kevin. "This is government-sanctioned bigotry," Kevin is quoted by the Detroit Free Press as saying, adding that he is "ashamed" lawmakers agreed to add the special language at the last minute.
Watch video of Whitmer's speech below:
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article identified Matt Epling as having been gay. The Epling family has released a statement saying that he was not gay.