It’s legal to discriminate against LGBT people in Michigan, says state Attorney General

Michigan has halted investigations of anti-LGBT discrimination, after the state’s Attorney General Bill Schuette issued a formal opinion that affirms it’s legal to discriminate in the state.

There is no federal law in the US that protects LGBT people from discrimination due to opposition from Republicans in Congress, meaning people are often reliant on an inconsistent patchwork of state-level laws.

In Michigan, the state’s Civil Rights Commission had relied upon an interpretation of a law that bans discrimination based on sex as also outlawing discrimination against LGBT people, due to the sexually-motivated nature of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (Win McNamee/Getty)

However, in a dramatic intervention this week, Schuette – who is a Republican candidate for Governor as well as the state’s legal chief, claimed that the interpretation is invalid.

In a formal opinion as Attorney General he affirmed: “It is my opinion that the Michigan Civil Rights Commission’s Interpretative Statement, which concludes that the term ‘sex’ as used in the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act includes sexual orientation and gender identity, is invalid because it conflicts with the original intent of the Legislature as expressed in the plain language of the Act, and as interpreted by Michigan’s courts.”

He added that the Civil Rights Commission could not make the interpretation because “the power to change Michigan law lies only with the Legislature”.

A spokesperson for Schuette said that the formal opinion is “binding on state government,” meaning the Civil Rights Commission will have to cease the practice.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (Bill Pugliano/Getty)

The Commission will meet Monday to discuss the issue, but the civil rights division has already had to cease investigating LGBT discrimination complaints “until after the commission provides us with direction.”

Schuette’s actions have been condemned by LGBT rights groups.

Stephanie White of Equality Michigan said: “The Michigan Civil Rights Commission acted lawfully when it issued Interpretative Statement 2018-1.

“It is imperative that the Michigan Civil Rights Commission defend its interpretation as the Attorney General’s Opinion does not have the force of law, and cannot bind state agencies.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (Alex Wong/Getty)

“While the Attorney General continues to polish his anti-LGBT credentials in a contested Gubernatorial race, today’s overreach cuts at the Commission’s core constitutional authority, which should concern everyone.

“It comes as no surprise that the Attorney General is using his office for partisan, personal gain, which has been his M.O. since taking office.

“Today’s opinion is another attack on LGBT civil rights, and consistent with his longstanding bigoted stance toward LGBT Michiganders.”

Amritha Venkataraman of Human Rights Campaign said: “Bill Schuette is unfit to serve as Attorney General, and this latest outrageous act proves once again that he cannot represent all Michiganders equally and fairly.

“AG Schuette has chosen to ignore legal precedent and leave thousands of LGBTQ Michganders at risk of discrimination.

“Numerous federal courts have determined that discrimination against an individual based on their sexual orientation or gender identity is fundamentally a form of sex discrimination – which is prohibited both under federal law, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Michigan’s Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act.

“HRC is on the ground working hard to elect pro-equality champions who support commonsense protections for LGBTQ Michganders and ensure that Schuette never makes it to the governor’s mansion.”