Gay Rights: Where Do We Stand?

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With a great deal of fanfare back in December, President Barack Obama signed the bill repealing the military’s controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. That brought an end to the 17-year-old ban on openly gay men and women serving in the armed forces.

On the state level, a Republican landslide during the November election left leaders of Michigan’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community wondering what will become of the pro-equality legislation they’ve been pushing for.

“Our civil rights laws don’t cover sexual orientation or gender identity or expression,” explains Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the LGBT project for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. He and other attorneys handle litigation, legal education and lobbying. “Generally, it’s legal for LGBT people to be discriminated against in employment, housing and public accommodations. Michigan may seem progressive in some areas, but we’re in the lowest rung when it comes to LGBT rights.” Here’s where we stand on the key issues:

Marriage Rights: Like a majority of states, Michigan law bans same-sex marriage. But we also have a constitutional amendment that denies gay people the right to marry. “The Michigan Supreme Court has broadly interpreted that amendment so it bans any form of recognition for same-sex relationships,” says Kaplan. “No right to marry, no same-sex unions, no domestic partner benefits; we have one of the most restrictive amendments in the country.” Even if a couple is married in a state where gay marriage is legal, the marriage is not recognized in Michigan.

Employment/Housing: Michigan landlords can refuse to rent to a person just because of their sexual orientation. Michigan employers can fire someone for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender and refuse to hire a homosexual worker, regardless of qualifications or job performance. For this reason, many members of the LGBT community say they hide their sexual orientation when applying for a job. This applies statewide except in communities like Huntington Woods, Ferndale and Detroit, which have local human rights ordinances that prohibit this form of discrimination.

Anti-Bullying: Legislation is pending; it has been approved by the state House and sent to the state Senate. “We are one of only six states that do not have a law requiring school districts to have anti-bullying policies,” Kaplan points out. “We have to work to educate our legislators and the public about these issues.” Like a majority of states, Michigan law bans same-sex marriage. But we also have a constitutional amendment that denies gay people the right to marry. “The Michigan Supreme Court has broadly interpreted that amendment so it bans any form of recognition for same-sex relationships,” says Kaplan. “No right to marry, no same-sex unions, no domestic partner benefits; we have one of the most restrictive amendments in the country.” Even if a couple is married in a state where gay marriage is legal, the marriage is not recognized in Michigan.

Employment/Housing: Michigan landlords can refuse to rent to a person just because of their sexual orientation. Michigan employers can fire someone for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender and refuse to hire a homosexual worker, regardless of qualifications or job performance. For this reason, many members of the LGBT community say they hide their sexual orientation when applying for a job. This applies statewide except in communities like Huntington Woods, Ferndale and Detroit, which have local human rights ordinances that prohibit this form of discrimination. Anti-Bullying: Legislation is pending; it has been approved by the state House and sent to the state Senate. “We are one of only six states that do not have a law requiring school districts to have anti-bullying policies,” Kaplan points out. “We have to work to educate our legislators and the public about these issues.”

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