LANSING, Mich. — State Sen. Jim Runestad on Wednesday voted against a proposed expansion of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act after Democrats struck down his amendments to protect religious liberties and ensure equal protection under the law.
“My concern is that Senate Bill 4 will turn Michigan’s strong civil rights act into a sword to be wielded by some against others rather than a shield to protect all residents of this great state,” said Runestad, R-White Lake.
“The bottom line is that this bill does not go far enough. We should do more to protect all citizens from invidious discrimination. We should be building bridges for real inclusiveness, deterring hostility toward people of faith, and bringing Michigan in line with other states that have expanded their anti-discrimination laws.”
Public Act 453 of 1976, commonly known as the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, prohibits discrimination in Michigan on the basis of “religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status” in employment, housing, education, and access to public accommodations.
SB 4 would add “sexual orientation, gender identity or expression” to the list of items for which discrimination is prohibited.
Runestad’s first amendment would have included “religious orientation, religious identity or expression” with the law’s religious protections. He offered a second amendment to include language from the federal Respect for Marriage Act as recently passed with bipartisan support.
protections were satisfactory for the Democrats in Congress and the president, then there is absolutely no reason my Democratic colleagues in Michigan should be opposed,” Runestad said. “The least we could have done is mirror the federal Respect for Marriage Act and provided some minimal protection for people of faith.”
The Michigan and U.S. Supreme Courts have already held the federal Title VII definition of sex applies to sexual orientation and gender identity. Additionally, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion in Bostock v. Clayton County Georgia that “it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”
“Given that these protections already exist in Michigan’s current law and understanding there have been increases in attacks on religious liberty seen across the country, it is not prudent to expand Elliott-Larsen in one direction and without equal protections,” Runestad said.
“According to research by the Michigan Catholic Conference, every state that has expanded its civil rights laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity has included religious protections. These states include California, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington. Without my amendments, Michigan would be an extreme outlier even among our nation’s most liberal states. This is the wrong direction for Michigan.”
Both of Runestad’s amendments failed along party lines. SB 4 now heads to the Michigan House for further consideration.