This morning, Michigan’s House Judiciary Committee discussed and voted out Speaker Jase Bolger’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) bill, HB 5958. Some members of the committee offered amendments, including one that would have prohibited the bill from being used to violate anti-discrimination or civil rights laws in Michigan, but no amendments were adopted. Hal Downs, President of the AU Michigan Chapter, submitted a letter for Thursday’s hearing opposing the bill on behalf of AU. Nonetheless, the Committee approved the bill in a 7-4 party line vote. A full house vote is expected today or early next week.
AU strongly opposes HB 5958. Under the guise of safeguarding religious freedom, this bill could open the door to discrimination and the denial of important and necessary health services. Read more about RFRA here, and if you live in Michigan, contact your Representative and tell him or her to oppose HB 5958.
An Attempt to Pair the RFRA with Non-Discrimination Bills
In an attempt to gain bipartisan support for this bill, Speaker Bolger had intended to pair it with HB 5959, one of two proposed bills to amend Michigan’s Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976. These two bills were discussed Wednesday in the House Commerce Committee.
One of these bills, HB 5804, would add “sexual orientation and gender identity or expression” as protected classes for people seeking employment, housing, and equal access to public accommodations, services, and facilities. Representative Singh, who introduced the bill, pointed out during the hearing that “19 states and 33 cities in Michigan already have these protections in their laws.”
The other bill, HB 5959, introduced by Representative Foster and supported by Speaker Bolger, only added protections based on sexual orientation but not gender identity or expression. Because it lacked these protections, civil rights groups opposed this bill as drafted.
Many witnesses at that hearing argued in support of HB 5804 in order to boost Michigan’s image of LGBT inclusiveness. One witness noted that Michigan is even included in the recent Rolling Stone article, “The 5 Worst States for LGBT People” along with Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, and Louisiana.
The benefits to the economy and business community also came up as some members of the Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition testified in favor of the inclusive civil rights bill. Because LGBT inclusiveness is good for business, many corporations openly support the LGBT community and have come out against legislation that restricts these rights and protections.
Unfortunately, the Committee could not come to an agreement on Wednesday and never voted on the bills.
The balance between civil rights protections, public health, and religious freedom will likely continue to be discussed all around the country this legislative session. Sign up for AU action alerts, and we’ll keep you updated with religious freedom activity in your state.