(This week we introduce a new monthly column by Stephanie White, executive director of Equality Michigan, the statewide LGBT rights organization.)
In 2009, when Rick Snyder was considering a run for governor, he conducted a series of small meetings to bounce ideas around and get feedback from various citizens. As a person in one of those meetings, I was interested to hear him express his lack of interest in divisive social issues that Republicans typically take on. He said he wasn’t interested in fighting about gay rights. That position of a socially moderate Republican who comes from a corporate background made complete sense. After all, virtually every Fortune 500 company in America has nondiscrimination policies in place. Companies realized long ago that creating policies to support all of their workforce and reach all consumers is good for business. As an Ann Arbor Republican, one could assume he saw the benefit of strong gay rights to his hometown as a booming, healthy economy.
Unfortunately, his practice of policymaking has yet to hold up to that promise. Looking back over his seven-year term as governor, it’s not unreasonable to draw the conclusion that, instead, he is against LGBT rights in Michigan.
In December 2011, during his very first year in office, he signed into law HB 4770, outlawing domestic partner benefits for state employees. In 2014, after marriage laws were briefly open to all Michiganders, Snyder went to court in an effort to deny those legally wed couples their full rights under the law. He remained on the wrong side of the marriage equality issue all the way through his loss at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015. Further, in June 2015 he signed into law a package of bills that allow faith-based adoption agencies that receive government funding to legally refuse to work with gay couples. And just recently he named a vehement and prolific antigay activist to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission.
Through the years, he has continued to portray himself as socially moderate, accepting and supportive of gay rights. Yes, he did let stand Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s limited executive action against employment discrimination in the executive branch, neither rescinding it nor renewing it under his own signature. He did use his 2015 State of the State address to say, “The other thing I call for is a continuation of the dialogue and discussion on Elliott-Larsen and I appreciate the prior discussions that were had, but let’s keep up that dialogue and let’s show that we can deal with the issues of discrimination in our state.” He has been open to some discussion and meetings on the topic of gay rights.
But Michiganders need a governor to lead this fight with tangible action. And there’s no reason a Republican governor who shares our desire to create a vibrant economy that attracts and retains top talent shouldn’t be that leader we need. Clearly, Democrats have always moved first on socially progressive issues, and LGBT rights would be nowhere without Democratic leadership. But gay rights are no longer radical and there aren’t any valid arguments against full equality left — they’ve all been thoroughly disproven. Today there are too many pro-equality Republicans emerging for this to be a purely partisan issue any longer. If Dick Cheney, Orrin Hatch, David Koch and the U.S. military can all support gay rights, then so can Gov. Rick Snyder.
Time is running out for Snyder to change his legacy on this topic. In this last year of his service, when he has far fewer political restrictions on his work, now is the time to put his socially moderate values into policy. As former NFL Coach Bill Parcells says, “You are what your record says you are.” Positioning our state to attract forward-thinking industries and entrepreneurs, to make clear that all Michiganders are equal under the law, to support diversity and inclusion, and to finally end discrimination in our state — that would be a winning record and a legacy to be proud of.