Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer
This week, as Michigan’s legislature comes back to work, Michigan Democrats are taking a proactive leadership role on two critical issues.
First, Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer and House Rep. Gretchen Driskell (maybe we should call them “The Fighting Gretchens”?) announced that they will introduce legislation requiring companies who choose to deny women access to specific types of contraception based on the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision to notify existing and prospective employees of this fact:
“Whether or not a company’s reproductive health coverage is comprehensive can be an important factor for a family to consider when making decisions about a job prospect,” Rep. Driskell said. “This is a foundational health issue for women and I don’t think you can attract the kind of talented and skilled people Michigan seeks without transparency in regards to reproductive health coverage.”
The legislation, similar to a policy being proposed by New York’s Attorney General in reaction to the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding chain retailer Hobby Lobby’s policies, will require that an employer notify current employees in writing about changes to their policies regarding reproductive health care, including contraception coverage, at least 90 days in advance of a change taking effect. The bills also require employers to include the information to prospective employees in job postings, advertisements, and in writing upon an offer of employment.
The bill, called the “Reproductive Health Coverage Information Act”, is smart and completely justified by the odious Hobby Lobby SCOTUS decision.
Second, Representatives Sam Singh, Adam Zemke, and Jeff Irwin, along with all members of the Democratic Caucus and an independent, have introduced legislation that would amend the state’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals.
In a statement, Singh described the legislation this way:
Amending the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include the LGBT citizens of this state is decades in the making and long overdue. Including the LGBT community in existing civil rights law will offer protections in areas such as employment, housing and public accommodation. As we continue to recruit talent and business to our state, we must show that Michigan values and protects all of our citizens from discrimination.
Unlike legislation being considered by House Republicans, this legislation does NOT contain language that would allow for religious exemptions to deny members of the LGBT community of their civil rights and does not exclude members of the transgender community. The bill adds the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” to the existing classes of religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status and marital status currently protected by law.
Here’s Rep. Zemke:
Even with the advances recently made by the LGBT community, we know that many of these citizens still face discrimination. We can no longer tolerate this injustice. Adding sexual orientation and gender identity to our civil rights laws is a matter of fairness and of equal treatment.
He went further in a statement on his Facebook page, saying, “I often hear from fellow members of the millennial generation about equality being the civil rights issue of our generation, and I could not be more excited to be the chief cosponsor of the House bill introduced today.”
I heard last week that Republicans were in discussions about putting forth similar legislation that would have excluded trans people and would have added exemptions based on “sincerely held religious beliefs”. This is pretty surprising considering the intense backlash that they faced when similar restrictions were first included in an anti-bullying bill – dubbed the “License to Bully Bill” – supported by Republicans in 2011. As I have noted before, no other group covered by the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act has exemptions based on religious beliefs.
The backlash Republicans experienced eventually led to an anti-bullying bill being signed into law in December 2011 that did NOT have a religious exemption. This latest legislation is no different, in that respect, from the “License to Bully Bill” initially floated by the GOP.
Here’s hoping this preemptive effort by the Michigan Democratic caucus is successful. As Rep. Singh said, it’s long overdue.
UPDATE: I neglected to mention that Ann Arbor state Senator Rebekah Warren has introduced similar legislation to expand civil rights to the LGBT community in the the state senate. Here is her statement:
Updating the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act is about protecting our citizens and their families from being fired from a job or being denied housing because of whom they are or who they love. In addition to this being a matter of basic fairness and equality that enjoys widespread public support, it is also an economic imperative and an important step in making our state a vital and vibrant location as we recruit the top talent and businesses from around the globe.
Republicans are, apparently, sticking to their guns in the effort to include a religious exemption to any effort to expand these civil rights exemptions:
“I believe Michigan workers should be hired or fired based on their work ethic and work performance, and nobody should suffer discrimination just as nobody should be forced to violate their religious beliefs,” House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
“We need to strike this important balance for all of Michigan’s hardworking women and men. I still have questions about how this can be achieved through legislation in general but continue to look for a solution. I cannot support the bills discussed to date so far because they do not strike this necessary balance.”
In other words, unlike other protected classes of Michigan citizens, Bolger and his colleagues believe that LGBT citizens should continue to be discriminated against by religious types. It’s disgusting.
Furthermore, they are so squicked out by transgender people that they aren’t worthy of any civil rights protections, according to the GOP. Emily Dievendorf of Equality Michigan isn’t having it:
Some Republican lawmakers are also uncomfortable with adding gender identity protections to Elliott-Larsen, according Murray. If a Republican bill is introduced this fall, it may end up focusing solely on sexual orientation, meaning it may not impact the transgender community.
But Emily Dievendorf of Equality Michigan, one of several partner groups in the coalition, called the gender identity protections “non-negotiable,” explaining that transgender individuals are “the number one category in the LGBT community to be targeted for discrimination.”
She noted that religious freedom is protected in the Michigan and U.S. Constitutions, along with Elliott-Larsen itself. Adding a religious exemption, or removing the T from LGBT, could jeopardize support, according to Dievendorf.
“A broad religious exemption would further make the LGBT community vulnerable to intolerance, and the community will not support a bill that does not include protection for transgender individuals. These are not things we’re willing to bargain on,” she said.
Godspeed to them on this effort.
Photo by Anne C. Savage