LGBT, RFRA — July 2, 2015 at 3:09 pm

Tell Michigan leaders you don’t want any more harmful RFRA laws


Find out why these “license to discriminate” bills are bad for Michigan, then sign a petition opposing RFRA legislation.

The ink was barely dry on the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide when Michigan Republicans began pushing for more so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) legislation. In fact, their assault on equality began even before the Supreme Court decision.

The most sobering example is the fact that Governor Rick Snyder signed into law the “RFRA for Adoption” bills that allow state-funded faith-based adoption agencies to turn away anyone based on religious objections to who they are, who they love or what they believe. The new law will make it harder to place foster children into loving forever homes.

But there’s plenty of other RFRA legislation in the works in the Michigan Legislature, including a broad RFRA bill that was discussed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in April. Just days after the Supreme Court decision, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mike Shirkey, made clear his intent to move Senate Bill 4 forward.

Then, there’s the “RFRA for Marriage” legislation being pushed by Rep. Todd Courser, which Chris has been reporting on. That legislation would essentially outlaw any marriage not performed by a member of the clergy, yet another attempt to invalidate the Supreme Court’s ruling (and shutting non-religious people out of the institution of marriage in the process).

Other legislation already introduced would allow healthcare providers to turn away anyone or deny certain services based on a provider’s “sincerely held beliefs.” The list keeps growing, and no one can say when it will stop.

Governor Rick Snyder has promised to veto any standalone RFRA legislation that isn’t accompanied by civil rights protections for the LGBT community, which could be achieved by expanding the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA), something Michigan Democrats and other advocates are pushing for. But if Governor Snyder were to approve all these other RFRA bills — as he did with the RFRA for Adoption bills — the result would be the same as a broad RFRA, even if he vetoed SB 4.

There’s no question that the battle for full equality in Michigan has really only just begun — even though a majority of Michiganders support LGBT equality, based on a poll released July 1 by Public Policy Polling.

Here are some highlights:

With gay marriage legal in Michigan now voters want to take the next step and ban discrimination against LGBT people in employment and housing. 68% support a law making it illegal to fire or deny housing in Michigan because someone is gay, lesbian, or transgender to only 25% who are opposed. 56% of voters say they would ‘strongly’ support such legislation. There’s a bipartisan consensus on the issue with 76% of Democrats, 66% of independents, and 60% of Republicans in support.

Voters are also quite opposed to two anti-gay GOP legislative efforts going on right now. Only 34% think adoption agencies that receive money from the state should be allowed to deny services to families they say violate their religious beliefs, with 52% saying they should not be allowed to do that. Independents are particularly opposed to that legislation at 29/55.

There’s even less support for the proposal to make it so that only clergy can perform weddings in the state, making it harder for same sex couples to get married. Only 16% of voters support that to 69% who are opposed and the opposition on that is bipartisan with independents (13/73), Democrats (15/71), and Republicans (22/63) all firmly against it.

It’s clear that Michiganders do not want discrimination in our state, and with good reason. It’s bad for our state’s future and it’s just plain wrong.

Sen. Rebekah Warren, a longtime champion of equality and sponsor of a Senate bill to update ELCRA, had this to say when I asked her to share her thoughts on why Senate Democrats will fight RFRA legislation along with their counterparts in the House, especially in regard to SB 4:

The Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday, June 26th was a major victory for our LGBT citizens and the future of our nation, but there are still many more battles in the fight for equality that lie ahead here in Michigan. We have to correct our discriminatory laws, laws that not only harm our LGBT citizens and families, but also pull up the welcome mat for people and businesses across the country.

Unfortunately, RFRA remains a serious threat as some of my colleagues continue to talk about advancing this dangerous legislation. If this broad and far-reaching bill is passed, it would excuse any person from following state or local laws they claim burden their exercise of religion. Police officers could refuse to enforce orders, landlords could deny housing to individuals, and employees could object to state laws or regulations simply because they assert doing so offends their religious views. While there is no doubt that individual religious freedom is a cornerstone of our democracy, it cannot be used to discriminate or cause harm to others, and this legislation would pave the way for such actions.

Perhaps just as importantly, this legislation would jeopardize Michigan’s ability to remain competitive in our increasingly global economy. Our business leaders have told us time and again that they look for states that have open and inclusive policies in place, not only because they create a stronger and more diverse talent pool, but also because they provide a higher quality of life for their employees and their families.

At the same time, polls consistently show that a vast majority of Americans do not support the discriminatory practices RFRA would allow. According to a poll conducted just a few weeks ago on behalf of American Unity Fund and Project Right Side, 88% of all voters and 85% of the Republican voters polled agreed with the following statement: ‘Gay and lesbian people are our friends, neighbors, family and co-workers. When it comes to being able to earn a living or be served by a business or government office, they should be treated like everyone else and not be discriminated against.’

At its core, this legislation flies in the face of the very values of diversity, fairness, and equality that Michiganders hold dear. It is imperative that we come together to reject this bill and declare in no uncertain terms that we do not tolerate discrimination.

It’s reassuring to know our Democratic legislators and other LGBT equality advocates plan to fight harmful RFRA legislation — but let’s make sure Republican legislators and Governor Snyder hear the voice of the people.

It could not be easier to tell Governor Snyder and the Michigan Legislature that you oppose RFRA legislation: Just sign this petition from Freedom Michigan to be heard.

Citizens speaking out helped pave the way for marriage equality. The same can be done to ensure full equality in every aspect of life.

[Image credit: | Wikimedia Commons]