Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) voiced support for gay rights Thursday, but has not disavowed the state's contested ban on gay marriage.
According to several news outlets, Snyder is encouraging legislators to look into amending the state's Elliott-Larsen civil rights act to include protections based on sexual orientation and gender expression. The law currently prohibits discrimination based on individuals' "religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status or marital status."
“I don’t believe in discrimination,” Snyder told Crain’s Detroit Business Thursday during the Mackinac Policy Conference in northern Michigan. “I hope that’s something the Legislature will take up sometime this year.”
House Speaker Jase Bolger (R) has no timeline for the issue, but is looking for a balance between ending discrimination and protecting religious freedom, according to the Detroit Free Press.
There's currently no law in the state that protects people from being fired for being gay. Michigan Radio and a coalition of gay rights groups each document a case in which a person claims they were fired for their sexual orientation. In October, Snyder repeatedly dodged a reporter's question about whether that was an acceptable practice.
"The question is how should government be involved in that process and how active, so again that's where I'm happy to work with the legislature as they're willing to look at those kind of issues," Snyder said at the time. "At this point in time I've got a number of other things that I've had as priorities."
But while Snyder's new public support for LGBT rights may finally push action on the civil rights act, he hasn't spoken on the most current equal rights issue for Michigan's LGBT residents: gay marriage. A federal judge overturned the state ban on gay marriage in March, finding it unconstitutional, though an appeals court shortly issued a stay as they consider the case. Snyder is named as a defendant.
In the day between the ruling and the stay, 300 couples were married. Snyder said that the marriages occurred legally, but that they would not be recognized by the state and therefore not eligible for state benefits, a position described as "head-spinning" by one of the lawyers who challenged the ban. On Thursday, the ACLU filed a motion asking for federal district court to recognize the marriages.
After the gay marriage ban was overturned, Snyder refused to rehash his personal opinion on marriage while speaking with an MLive reporter.
"I've been focused on jobs, it's my main message, and I'm staying consistent with that," he said.
Gay rights supporters have said Michigan's hostile environment dissuades LGBT individuals, their allies and young people from living in the state, which could hurt economic recovery.
“There are real economic implications to either including or not including LGBT protection in Michigan’s civil rights law," Michigan Department of Civil Rights spokeswoman Vicki Levengood told the Detroit Free Press. "The impacts are more than just to an individual. It impacts Michigan’s economic climate and viability.”
The Michigan Civil Rights Commission and the state's civil rights department have recommended that the Elliott-Larsen act be amended for decades. Democratic legislators' previous attempts to include protections for gender expression and sexual orientation have been unsuccessful. In the meantime, communities across the state have enacted ordinances that offer protections for LGBT individuals.
Snyder's support comes after a coalition of businesses, including the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, AT&T, Consumers Energy, the Dow Chemical Company, Chrysler Group LLC, a couple of city chambers and others started campaigning to update the civil rights act. They frame the issue as more about good business sense than equal rights.
"There are others that would like to make it into some other issue, but for us, this is strictly a business and economic issue," Rick Baker, President and CEO of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, said Thursday, according to MLive.
The governor's office did not immediately return a request for comment.