Michigan Supreme Court Rules State’s Civil Rights Law Covers Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity
Michigan Rainbow flag on the mast
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Michigan’s highest court ruled Thursday that the state’s civil rights protections preventing discrimination on the basis of sex also apply to sexual orientation and gender identity.

In a 5-2 decision, Michigan’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of a same-sex couple and a transgender person, arguing that their civil rights were violated by businesses refusing them service, WOOD TV reported. The ruling is being heralded as a major victory for the LGBTQ community, but many are concerned about its implications for religious liberty.

“Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily constitutes discrimination because of sex,” the majority opinion, written by Republican-nominated Justice Beth Clement, stated. “Accordingly, the denial of ‘the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of a place of public accommodation or public service’ on the basis of sexual orientation constitutes discrimination ‘because of . . . sex.’”

Four Democrat-nominated justices joined Clement in the opinion that targets small businesses in the state that are not already subject to federal workplace laws.

In a dissent, Justice David Viviano expressed concern for religious liberty protections, according to Bridge Michigan. “This departs from the normal principle that courts will first consider whether an interpretation raises grave constitutional doubts before adopting that interpretation,” he wrote.

The case appeared before the Supreme Court after the Michigan Civil Rights Commission authorized the Department of Civil Rights to investigate complaints of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in 2018. Two businesses, Rouch World and UpRooted Electrolysis, sued in response to complaints filed against them, relying on their religious beliefs as the reason they do not serve gay and transgender people. The lawsuit also argued that the Civil Rights Commission did not have the authority to bypass the legislature and interpret Michigan civil rights law differently from how it was laid out in 1976, since the law does not mention sexual orientation or gender identity.

Rouch World refused to host a same-sex wedding, and laser removal company UpRooted Electrolysis did not give service to a transgender person identifying as a woman who wanted hair removed. The court ultimately ruled against the two companies’ arguments in the landmark decision.

Michigan Democrat Governor Gretchen Whitmer applauded the high court’s decision, saying it is a historical moment for her state. “For too long, LGBTQ+ Michiganders had been left out of our state’s civil rights protections,” Whitmer tweeted. “For years, I have fought to bring our LGBTQ+ community under the protection of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. Today, I am proud that history has been made.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, also a Democrat, personally appeared before the court during arguments in March and urged the justices to rule in favor of the LGTBQ community.

“Michiganders deserve to live in a state that recognizes the value of diversity & rejects the notion that our own civil rights law could be used as a tool of discrimination,” Nessel, who is Michigan’s first openly gay politician elected to statewide office, wrote following the court’s decision Thursday. “This ruling is a victory for the LGBTQ+ community, for all MI residents, & one that’s long overdue.”

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