Dec. 29 2015 01:55 PM

Board of Canvassers gives green light to GLBT ballot proposal

The four members of the State Board of Canvassers (from left: Republicans Colleen Pero and Norm Shinkle and Democrats Jeannette Bradshaw and Julie Matuzak) prepare for Tuesday's meeting at the state capitol.

TUESDAY, Dec. 29 — In a 4-0 vote, the state Board of Canvassers approved today the form and language of a ballot initiative to amend the Michigan Constitution to protect the LGBT community from discrimination.

The proposal would amend the Constitution to include gender identity, sexual orientation, gender and sex as protected classes. The move would eliminate the 2004 amendment that banned same-sex marriage and civil unions.

The move is being taken as an end run around the Legislature, which has failed to act on amending the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act.

Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for Fair Michigan, a ballot committee pushing the measure, said the group believes that the ballot proposal it the right way to go. She said the proposed constitutional amendment is “at the right time and the right moment.”

Fair Michigan expects to begin circulating petitions in January, Wurfel said. She was unable to give a launch date.

The initiative has the support of Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a partner in the high profile Truscott Rossman public relations agency in town, and Richard McLellan, a GOP activist and attorney.

But LGBT organizations have raised concerns about the initiative and the potential for success. In December, at a community meeting with the LGBT community and Fair Michigan representatives, 2014 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rep Mark Schauer proposed the two sides of the debate sit down without the media present to look at the issues, particularly polling and modeling.

Polls show strong support for such a measure, but modeling, which takes into account a variety of issues related to a voter, shows the measure would likely go down in defeat.

A first meeting as proposed by Schauer has occurred with all polling and modeling data being turned over to one of the participants to determine if there is a viable path to victory for a constitutional amendment. The group — which includes Fair Michigan representatives, as well as representatives from ACLU Michigan, Equality Michigan and other organizations — is supposed to meet again in January to discuss the findings.

But on Tuesday Wurfel sounded a different tune. When asked if Fair Michigan were prepared to move forward, regardless of what the review of polling and modeling data showed, she said the organization was.

She said the group believes the constitutional amendment process is the “path to win.”

Stephanie White, executive director of Equality Michigan, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, said she was surprised by the announcement.

“It’s surprising they are going forward given they don’t have the resources or support to be successful,” she said in a phone interview.

Wurfel was unable to say how much money Fair Michigan had on hand. Ballot experts have said a successful petition drive, to collect 315, 654 valid signatures of registered Michigan voters could cost as much as $1 million. The group would need to collect those signatures and turn them in by July 11 to qualify for the November 2016 general election.