Whitmer signs directive strengthening protections for LGBTQ community
LANSING – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive directive Monday to strengthen prohibitions against LGBTQ discrimination in state employment, contracting and provision of services.
The directive, signed at Affirmations, an LGBTQ community resource center in Ferndale, is the latest in a series of directives signed by Whitmer, a Democrat, since she took office Jan. 1.
Monday’s directive goes further than a directive signed by former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder shortly before he left office at the end of 2018. Snyder’s December directive barred state contractors from discriminating against gay or transgender employees, but it included an exemption for churches and other religious organizations. Whitmer’s directive includes no such exemption.
“If we’re going to attract the talented workforce our businesses need to create jobs and grow our economy, then we’ve got to get on the right side of history,” Whitmer said in a news release. “That’s what this executive directive is all about.”
Though the Michigan Legislature has not amended the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to explicitly ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sexual identity, and former Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette said the law does not do so, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission determined last year that the ban in the statute on discrimination on the basis of “sex” includes a ban on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sexual identity.
Whitmer said she incorporates that expanded definition in her executive directive.
Tiffany Brown, a Whitmer spokeswoman, said the order can’t immediately prohibit an adoption agency that contracts with the state from refusing to allow a same-sex couple to adopt, on religious grounds, when such a case is already before the courts.
The governor cannot change a statute by executive directive,” Brown said in an email. “The courts will decide the … lawsuit.” Whitmer “respects the process and the rule of law, and ultimately the constitutionality of the statute will be decided by the courts.”
Newly elected Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel, who is gay, issued a statement praising Whitmer’s order.
“This action is deeply personal to me and I am grateful that Gov. Whitmer has made anti-discrimination one of her top priorities in her first several days in office,” Nessel said. “This is a step in the right direction and I am hopeful that soon our state laws will also reflect the paradigm of equal protection under the law for all Michiganders.”
David Maluchnik, a spokesman for the Michigan Catholic Conference, said the group wants to study the directive before commenting. “We were looking forward to the governor coming out of the gate on issues related to poverty, clean water or criminal justice reform,” he said.
State Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, who joined Whitmer for the signing, said in a news release Whitmer’s action is “an encouraging step forward” in achieving true equality. Moss is the first openly gay official elected to the Michigan Senate.
On Friday, Whitmer signed a directive instructing the Department of Technology, Management and Budget to find ways to purchase more supplies and sign more contracts with “geographically disadvantaged” businesses, which could include businesses located in rural areas, on Indian lands, and in economically challenged cities such as Detroit. Whitmer said she’s not asking for a special break for such businesses, but wants to make sure they have equal opportunities to compete.
On Thursday, Whitmer signed six “good government” executive directives, including one that prohibits state employees from using personal email accounts to discuss state business.
On Wednesday, her first full day in office, Whitmer issued an executive directive requiring state employees to report perceived threats to public health and safety to their bosses, and requiring those bosses to appropriately follow up on such reports. Whitmer also asked Attorney General Dana Nessel for a legal opinion on the constitutionality of recent legislation to allow for a planned Enbridge Line 5 tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac.
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