The question is whether the current law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of “sex”, also applies to sexual orientation.
“We are a better and stronger state when everyone is protected by the law,” Nessel told reporters after the hearing.
Two Michigan campaigns accused of discrimination have sued the state, citing “sincerely preserved religious beliefs,” claiming the Civil Rights Commission usurped the legislature by reinterpreting existing law to protect groups not actually listed in the statute.
The Republican-led Michigan legislature has resisted calls to expand protections, but only lawmakers or voters can rewrite the laws, say attorneys representing firms.
“This violates all the founding principles of this country to adopt such a major change in the Civil Rights Act, not allowing all Michigan citizens to be heard by their vote either in the ballot box or through duly elected representatives,” they wrote. in a recent court statement.
Nessel’s decision to substantiate the case is a relatively rare step, which she said was justified given the stakes and her familiarity with the issue.
The Democrat First Term is the state’s first public attorney general and was a leading figure in the gay rights movement before winning the 2018 election.
As a private practice attorney, Nessel represented a same-sex couple from Michigan whose lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Supreme Court and helped lift bans on same-sex marriage nationwide in 2013. Two years later, she led an unsuccessful petition to amend the Michigan Constitution to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
“We know that Michigan is better not only in terms of civil rights, but also in terms of economics, if we include everyone under our laws, and I hope that’s something that lately we’ll see what happens if the court will make a decision, ”she said on Wednesday.
The Michigan Department of Civil Rights first began investigating allegations of sexual orientation and discrimination against gender identity in late 2018, citing a legal interpretation of the commission that was later approved in 2020. US Supreme Court decision that “sexual” protection in federal civil rights law prohibits discrimination against gays and transgender people in the workplace.
The Michigan lawsuit began in 2019 when the state investigated Rouch World LLC, an event center in Sturgis whose owners refused to hold a same-sex wedding ceremony, and UpRooted Electrolysis in Guinea, whose operators refused to provide hair removal services to a transgender woman in the process. physical transition.
The companies sued to stop the civil rights investigation.
In a 2020 ruling, the Michigan Claims Court ruled that “sexual” protection in the state’s existing civil rights law protects against discrimination based on gender identity. But the court said it was out of obligation Resolution of 1993 The Michigan Court of Appeals does not prohibit discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation under the current statute.
Rouch World lawyers have appealed, reiterating that only voters or the legislature, not a commission or a court, can amend state laws.
Records show that lawmakers did not intend “sex” to mean “sexual orientation” when the law was written 46 years ago, lawyer David Kalman said on Wednesday.
“Today we are not here to decide sexual orientation as a good or bad state policy of the protected class,” Kalman told judges in a court where Democratic candidates have a 4-3 advantage. “Today you have a question, what does the term ‘sex’ mean in 1976, when it was passed by the legislature?”
In court documents, Kalman noted that since 1999, at least 11 bills have been introduced to expand anti-discrimination protection measures for LGBT residents, but none have been approved by the legislature.
At least two petitions for potential voting proposals, including a 2015 initiative led by Nessel, have also stalled or failed.
“The legislature did not include sexual orientation in (Civil Rights Act) when it was adopted as evidence of the actual vote of lawmakers,” Kalman said.
The closely monitored case prompted lawsuits from various side interests.