Michigan board: Civil rights law bars LGBT discrimination
LANSING — A Michigan agency will for the first time process complaints of discrimination against LGBT people after a board said that the state's civil rights law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The state Civil Rights Commission voted 5-0 yesterday to issue the interpretive statement, with one member abstaining. It says that discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is a form of sex discrimination outlawed under the 1976 civil rights law.
Michigan Department of Civil Rights Director Augustin Arbulu said complaints will be processed starting today.
The commission acted at the request of Equality Michigan, an LGBT rights group that initially asked for the statement last July.
"There are over 300,000 individuals with different sexual or gender affiliations who have felt that ... they had no place to go if they were discriminated (against)," Arbulu told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "Now they have a place to go. That's a game-changer."
He said the civil rights law "has always been a trailblazer," and the statement means the state will "continue to be on the front lines when it comes to civil rights."
The issue likely is not settled though.
A conservative legal group submitted arguments last year to the commission on the behalf of 10 Republican lawmakers who said the Legislature has rejected adding more classifications to the civil rights law 11 times since 1999.
"An interpretive statement is not binding law. It would not, therefore, make LGBT discrimination 'unlawful in Michigan,' would not be legally binding on employers and individuals in our state and would not give any legal remedies to alleged victims of discrimination," the Lansing-based Great Lakes Justice Center said then.
Democrats and Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature have been at odds over expanding civil rights protections for LGBT citizens.
Outside allies have also offered sharply different views on the commission's responsibility and authority in the wake of federal rulings declaring that LGBT-based discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations is forbidden.