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Today is Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Bill Could Add LGBT Clause to 1968 Act

[LANSING, MI] - A bill was introduced into the state House on Tuesday, which would add gender identity and sexual orientation clauses to a long-standing anti-discrimination law - but lobbyists and legislators aren't optimistic about the bill's chances.

The Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1968 protects against discrimination based on age, gender and religion. The act, which was passed by the state Legislature, originally included sexual orientation, but the clause was never signed onto the bill.

Rep. Chris Kolb, D-Ann Arbor, introduced the bill and says it bans discrimination in housing and employment.

"If a state like New Mexico can pass a nondiscrimination law that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, then there really should be no reason why Michigan can't as well," Kolb said. "In reality, I think it's just a matter of time."

Kolb said there are 14 states that have nondiscrimination statutes prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. The bill sits at the House Judiciary Committee, and a similar bill will be introduced into the state Senate.

Some representatives who support the legislation in theory might not necessarily vote in favor of the bill, if it ever gets heard. Rep. Lorence Wenke, R-Kalamazoo, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, said he is supportive of any legislation against discrimination, but is not sure how his constituents would react to such a bill.

"Generally speaking, there is a lot of antisexual orientation public sentiment," Wenke said. "I'm not sure how my area feels, but I know there is a strong religious sector that would vigorously oppose this bill."

Todd Harcek, chief of staff for Rep. Marc Shulman, R-West Bloomfield, says Republicans aren't to blame for the lack of success of the bill.

"This has been introduced with Democrats as well and hasn't fared any better," Harcek said. "I'm not sure this is a partisan issue."

Supporters of the bill are promoting it throughout the state. Sean Kosofsky, director of policy for the Triangle Foundation, said employers legally can fire workers based on sexual orientation. The foundation, which is based in Detroit, lobbies for legislation that benefits the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Kosofsky said the bill has been introduced into the state House twice before and has never been heard. He added the bill has little chance of passing with a Republican-controlled Legislature.

"The bill didn't get very far in the past and probably won't get very far now because of the Republican run Legislature," Kosofsky said. "The Republican majority is not interested in advancing equal rights for gays."

Members of the LGBT community are attempting to gain 10,000 signatures at pride festivals occurring at several places in the state. The signatures will be handed to the Legislature by September.

Kosofsky said there has been some encouraging signs that LGBT issues are advancing, such as Gov. Jennifer Granholm declaring June Gay Pride Month in Michigan and the hearing of anti-bullying legislation, which specifically includes sexual orientation in the wording of the bill, he said. Kosofsky said his organization will continue to lobby for equal rights no matter what obstacles they run into.

"We're going to fight until we win," Kosofsky said. "And we will win."

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