Michigan Supreme Court hears major gay rights case

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s attorney general on Wednesday asked the state Supreme Court to overturn key decisions and extend the state’s anti-discrimination law to gays and lesbians.

People who claim discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation have not been protected by Michigan’s civil rights law because the word “sex” in the law has been interpreted only as a reference to gender.

But Attorney General Dana Nessel, pointing to landmark gay rights decisions in federal courts, said it’s time for the state Supreme Court to recognize that Michigan’s anti-bias law means much more.

In 2019, Rouch World, an event center in Sturgis, declined to host a same-sex wedding, saying it conflicted with the owner’s religious beliefs. That same year, a hair-removal business declined to serve a transgender woman.

The Court of Claims said in 2020 that it was bound by a Court of Appeals decision decades earlier that found sexual orientation wasn’t covered by the civil rights law.

But Nessel, who is gay, said denying protections to lesbians and gays is a “severe and ongoing harm.”

The civil rights law was “enacted to identify and correct inequalities in many aspects of public and private life, from employment to housing, to public accommodations and education,” Nessel said in a court filing.

Before becoming attorney general, Nessel persuaded a federal judge to overturn Michigan’s ban on gay marriage, a case that ultimately landed at the U.S. Supreme Court.

But lawyers for Rouch World said it’s up to the Legislature, not courts, to expressly state that Michigan law bars discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“It is a very clever way of amending the law without going through the Legislature,” David Kallman told the seven justices. “There’s no end to how this kind of theory could be used on any law that’s on the books. That’s something that I think the court should seriously consider.”

Kallman also noted that Rouch World’s freedom to practice religion would be violated if forced to host same-sex weddings.

Before becoming attorney general, Nessel persuaded a federal judge to overturn Michigan’s ban on gay marriage, a decision that was ultimately affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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