Legislature should amend state’s civil rights law

The election is over and so, too, is the infighting among Republicans trying to win over conservative voters.

Now, the legislature should confront the issues it failed to resolve before campaign season took hold a couple months ago.

Dedicating more money to improve Michigan’s roads is certainly a top priority, but when state lawmakers return to Lansing it’s time to make the proposed changes to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act that GOP leaders seem to be cautiously supporting.

Authored in 1976 by Melvin Larsen, a onetime chairman of the Michigan Republican Party and state House member from 1973-78, and Daisy Elliott, a former Democratic state representative from Detroit, the law prohibits discrimination based on a person’s religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status or marital status.

In 2012, Democratic state Sen. Rebekah Warren, of Ann Arbor, proposed amending the law to include protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. A year later, our very own state Rep. Frank Foster, R-Petoskey, came forward with public support for the change.

“There’s been a lot of talk lately about LGBT legislation, but hate and discrimination aren’t just gay or lesbian issues; they are human rights issues,” Foster said in June 2013 when he became the lead Republican openly supporting the change. “What I’ve heard from people is that probably nine out of 10 Michiganders believe this is already protected, when in fact it’s not under Michigan law.”

Foster has since received praise from gay rights groups and activists along with equal amounts of criticism from conservative leaders locally and statewide for his stance. His public support for the amendment was one of the main reasons tea party activists supported Foster’s opponent, Lee Chatfield, in Tuesday’s Republican primary. Foster was the only incumbent state lawmaker in Michigan not to win his or her primary race.

Earlier this year, the proposed Elliott-Larsen amendment gained more steam as Republican Gov. Rick Snyder urged the GOP-controlled legislature to begin the discussion. State House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, has said he doesn’t want to send a message of intolerance, but that lawmakers must balance individual and religious rights in making their decision.

With Foster and Bolger, who will reach his term limit in the House at the end of this year, leaving the legislature, now is the time for Republican leadership to act.

The issue isn’t as complex as many GOP lawmakers want to make it. They seem to be speaking out of both sides of their mouth when they say discrimination in any form is wrong, but that such a change to the law infringes on religious liberties.

Public polls indicate 75 percent of the state’s residents side with Foster on the issue. Many business leaders, including the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance, have offered formal support for the change.

It’s time for GOP leaders to stop with the political posturing and bring this law into the 21st century.

– Petoskey News-Review