Sometimes it takes awhile for civil rights to be thoroughly protected.

On second thought, that’s an understatement. Consider the length of time between slavery and the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

That doesn’t mean we can’t speed up things a little. Earlier this week, an effort was made to add LGBTQ protections to state civil rights law by either the legislative process or Michigan voter approval.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as well as Metro Detroit Sen. Jeremy Moss and Rep. Laurie Pohutsky announced what they believed was the final impetus to add sexual orientation and gender identity or expression protections to Michigan law.

This is about four decades after the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act was signed. The act protects discrimination Michigan on the basis of “religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex heights, weight, familial status or marital status” in employment, education, housing and access to public accommodations.

“Our diversity is one of our greatest strengths and that diversity needs to be protected under state law if we’re going to attract the talented workforce our businesses need to create jobs and grow our economy,” Whitmer was quoted as saying in an Associated Press story.

The AP reported that Fair and Equal Michigan, an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of the state’s LGBTQ community, filed a petition early in 2020 to amend the state’s civil rights law. That petition garnered almost half a million signatures.

A current complicated case deals with this issue.

Following a Michigan Court of Claims decision involving a discrimination lawsuit filed against the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, Attorney General Dana Nessel applauded the court’s decision on “gender identity” but vows to appeal its ruling as it relates to “sexual orientation” and the terms’ meanings under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include UpRooted Electrolysis LLC, based in Gwinn, and Rouch World LLC, an amusement park in downstate Sturgis, while the defendants are the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and Mary Engleman, interim director of the department.

The businesses are plaintiffs in that they want to deny services based on religious grounds.

The attorney general’s office said the businesses denied services to customers who were either a same-sex couple or an individual who was transitioning their gender identity.

In 2018, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission adopted an interpretive statement that “sex” as defined by ELCRA included protections for individuals on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the office said. This determination by the commission allowed the MDCR to begin processing complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Complaints about the plaintiff businesses were filed in 2019 with the MDCR, which began its investigation. Early in 2020, plaintiffs filed suit, asking the court to rule that the MDCR has no jurisdiction to investigate complaints based on sexual orientation or gender identity and that the MCRC had no authority to issue the 2018 interpretive statement that sexual orientation and gender Identity were covered under ELCRA.

Judge Christopher Murray, in his opinion issued on Dec. 7, sided with the commission’s interpretive statement that ELCRA provides protections for “gender identity.” However, the court indicated ELCRA does not prohibit discrimination against a person because of an individual’s “sexual orientation” based on a 1993 Court of Appeals ruling in Barbour v. Department of Social Services.

Nessel has indicated she will appeal that ruling on behalf of the Department of Civil Rights.

We believe people have a right to exercise their religious freedoms, but not when it infringes on the rights of others.

It’s long past due to include LGBTQ protections in Michigan civil right law.

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