Michigan expands civil rights act to include sexual orientation, gender identity

by Jacob Fuller

Vicky Arias, FISM News

Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan signed legislation Thursday expanding the state’s civil rights act to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

Michigan’s civil rights act, passed in 1976 and known as the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, is a law prohibiting discrimination in employment, education, and real estate on the basis of various identifying demographics, including religion, race, color, national origin, age, and sex.

The amended act, known as Senate Bill 4, adds LGBTQ+ protections to that list.


Republicans and religious organizations alike have called for religious liberty protections to be outlined in the bill as well, but their calls went unanswered.

Exemptions for religious and private institutions already exist in the bill. However, various groups say the exemptions are too ambiguous and likely open them up to excessive litigation.

For instance, the bill would allow employers to hire individuals of like-minded religions as long as their “religion … is a [sincere] qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the business or enterprise.”

The language of the text could present a point of contention for religious institutions that have codes of conduct as a condition for employment. The term ‘religion’ in the bill could be broadly interpreted and applied, as individuals interpret and apply various tenets of religious teachings – and religions themselves – to their lives in different ways.

According to Fox News, “while expanding the rights for LGBTQ members, the bill could remove protections for faith-based organizations that believe marriage is between one man and one woman, or biological differences between men and women.”

Religious groups, including Protestants, Catholics, and Muslims protested the bill for not including religious liberty protections.

Amy Doukoure, a staff attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said the bill may violate the constitution.

“CAIR Michigan believes along with some other religious groups that have done the policy and the legal research that there are provisions of this bill that could be struck down as unconstitutional,” Doukoure said in the Fox report.

Michigan State Senator Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) opposed the bill in its present form.

“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,” Runestad said in a press release.

“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,” Runestad continued. “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.”

Runestad’s push to add religious liberty protections to the bill failed.

According to ABC News, Michigan state Senator Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) said the bill doesn’t do enough to protect religious freedom.

“The change proposed to Elliot-Larsen goes too far because it seeks to protect one group of people at the expense of others,” Albert said.