Sadly, Michigan is no exception to this trend.
There’s a real opportunity to draft policy that would make our state a better place to live, love, work and raise a family. Instead, conservatives have focused on limiting access to marriage-related services, adoption, civil rights and bathrooms for LGBTQ people. And they’re doing it under the guise of protecting religious freedom and personal privacy.
For opponents to equality, weakening the Supreme Court’s ruling has been paramount. That’s why a series of “pastor protection” bills (HB 4732, HB 4733, HB 4855 and HB 4858) were introduced to make marriage solely a religious privilege. Gone would be civil ceremonies, making it harder for LGBTQ folks — never mind nonbelievers — to get married. Curiously, these bills also let churches refuse couples based on their religious beliefs, a right already protected under the first amendment. Adding that provision seeks to convince the public that religious freedom still needs protecting.
Conservatives capitalized on that very idea to make it more challenging for many LGBTQ families to adopt, even though there are more than 3,000 foster kids who need homes. In a particularly despicable move, last year Gov. Rick Snyder signed a three-bill package that let taxpayer-funded adoption agencies refuse to place children with same-sex parents if they objected based on religious grounds. In short, antiequality legislators sacrificed loving homes on the altar of their own intolerance.
Since then, expanding religious exemptions to discriminate have taken center stage.
Republicans introduced SB 4, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), to let people opt out of state or local laws that “substantially burden” religious practices. While religious liberty is essential to a diverse and progressive society, the “religious freedom” afforded by RFRA is a dog whistle for “freedom to discriminate.” In Michigan, only lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people aren’t protected by the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. That means faith can be used as an excuse to deny services, employment, housing or medical care to a member of the LGBTQ community. Lives will be in jeopardy.
But some conservatives have been perfectly willing to endanger our citizens for political gain. That drive is especially evident when it comes to discrimination against transgender Michiganders. Despite the dramatic social, legal and economic backlash against North Carolina’s, HB 2, conservatives introduced two bathroom bills of their own. And like HB 2, both HB 5717 and SB 993 would put already vulnerable individuals directly in harm’s way.
HB 5717 would restrict the use of public bathrooms and facilities based on biological sex, and SB 993 would extend those restrictions to schools. Transgender kids would have the option to use a single-occupancy restroom, but only if their parents request it. That’s massively problematic when not every LGBTQ child has a supportive family.
LGBTQ youth are 41 percent more likely to report being bullied and are 4.5 times more likely to attempt suicide. We can expect those statistics to worsen when dangerous legislation puts using the restroom at the center of a humiliating national conversation. Friends, we cannot put children at risk because a vocal minority is needlessly afraid.
But there are voices in the Michigan House and Senate who are fighting for change. Progressive lawmakers have introduced bills (SB 315, HB 4538) that would amend the Elliott- Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect sexual orientation and gender identity. They haven’t passed yet, but with your help, they could. The stakes have never been higher. For some of us, the political arena is a struggle for representation and consensus. It’s our safety, our lives and our bodies.
This September, the Michigan Legislature will be back in session. If opponents to equality have their way, many of these discriminatory bills could end up on the House and Senate floors. So unless you’re willing to continue living in a state where LGBTQ people are treated as second-class citizens, you need to act. You need to make yourself heard by writing, calling and organizing with all the tools you have at your disposal. Remember: your legislators work for you.
Conservatives nationwide are on the wrong side of history. They’re fighting against a majority of Michiganders and Americans who believe that all people are created equal, regardless of who they love.
It’s on you to remind them.