State Supreme Court rules LGBTQ+ community is protected against discrimination by Civil Rights Act

The Michigan Supreme Court affirmed that the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of an individual’s sexual orientation, siding with Attorney General Dana Nessel.

The lawsuit, Rouch World LLC et al v Michigan Department of Civil Rights et al, was brought by businesses that denied services to customers who were either a same-sex couple or an individual who was transitioning their gender identity.

"Now, more than ever, it is critical that those of us elected to public office work to preserve and protect the rights of all residents," said Nessel in a release. "Today’s ruling confirms what we have long known—that the protections afforded by the ELCRA cover all Michiganders."

The decision protects those in the state's LGBTQ+ community from discrimination in housing, employment, education, and public accommodation.

In October, on behalf of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) and the director of the MDCR, Nessel filed a bypass application in the Michigan Supreme Court. The Michigan Supreme Court agreed the case warranted immediate review and Nessel argued before the Court on March 2.

"It is also important to recognize that the rights of Michigan’s LGBTQ+ community are based on precedent from court decisions," Nessel said. "And while we were once a nation that respected the value of legal precedent to help preserve our rights, that may no longer be the case.  

"Now is the time to enshrine our rights in law to ensure no person in this state ever experiences barriers to employment, housing, education, or public accommodations and services because of who they are or whom they love.

"Our residents deserve to live in a state that recognizes the value of diversity and rejects the notion that our own civil rights law could be used as a tool of discrimination. This ruling is not only a victory for the LGBTQ+ community, but for all Michigan residents, and one that’s long overdue."

In court documents, the plaintiffs raised religious liberty arguments that are pending in the court of claims.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer celebrated the court victory, saying that the state is more free and fair today than it was yesterday.

"The Michigan Supreme Court has ruled decisively to confirm that our state’s civil rights laws protect our LGBTQ+ community," she said in a statement. "This is a monumental victory that ensures our LGBTQ+ community is seen equally by state law and protected by it.

"It will save lives, protect families, and help ensure that every Michigander is treated with dignity and respect by law. For too long, LGBTQ+ Michiganders had been left out of our state’s civil rights protections. No longer. Because of this ruling, nobody can legally be fired from their job or evicted from their home because of who they love."

Erin Knott of the group Equality Michigan said her group began the fight in 2018 by petitioning the Michigan Civil Rights Commission to issue an interpretation that sexual orientation and gender identity/expression are protected civil rights through the category of sex.

"Michigan’s State Supreme Court has ruled that Michigan’s Civil Rights Law guarantees protections for LGTBQ+ people in Rouch World LLC v Michigan Department of Civil Rights," she said in a statement. "This is an extraordinary win for LGTBQ+ Michiganders and our families, friends, and allies. No longer can an event center refuse to host the wedding of a same-sex couple. No longer can a hair removal business deny trans women services. Freedom of religion does not equal freedom to discriminate against LGTBQ+ people in Michigan."

Knott said in her group's release that more work needs to be done.

"The Court’s ruling does not guarantee our rights, and an official change in legislation to the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act to include 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity and expression' is still imperative.

"We assure you that Equality Michigan will continue to lead this fight and call on the Michigan Legislature to officially amend Michigan’s Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act, but today, we can celebrate this win."