In landmark ruling, Michigan Supreme Court says definition of ‘gender’ in discrimination law includes sexual orientation – The Hill
history at a glance
- The definition of gender in Michigan’s decades-old discrimination law includes sexual orientation, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
- The ruling comes as a result of a 2020 case involving two Michigan companies that denied services to clients based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
- While the decision was celebrated by some, others said the court was reinterpreting state law in an overstretching of its duty.
In a landmark decision, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that a state anti-sex discrimination law also protects individuals from discrimination based on their sexual orientation.
In a statement released on ThursdayJudge Elizabeth Clement, writing for the majority of the court, ruled that the definition of gender in Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA), a decades-old state law prohibiting sex discrimination, includes sexual orientation.
“Discrimination based on sexual orientation necessarily amounts to discrimination based on sex,” Clement wrote. Therefore, it is a violation of ELCRA to deny a person “full and equal enjoyment” of goods, services and public accommodation because of their sexual orientation.
The ruling comes as a result of a 2020 case involving two Michigan companies that denied services to clients based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Rouch World, an outdoor venue about 10 miles north of Michigan’s Indiana border, had refused to allow a lesbian couple to hold their wedding on-site. Uprooted electrolysis offering permanent hair removal services would not serve a transgender woman.
In a lawsuit against the state following customer complaints and an investigation by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, both companies argued that they have the right to refuse service to LGBTQ+ people because of their “sincere religious beliefs.”
Only the case of alleged discrimination based on sexual orientation made it to the country’s Supreme Court.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) celebrated the court’s verdict on Thursday. In December Whitmer Amicus letter submitted before the Michigan Supreme Court, arguing that ELCRA language prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“For too long, LGBTQ+ Michiganders have been excluded from our state’s civil rights protections.” said Whitmer on Thursday. “Not anymore, no longer. Because of this ruling, nobody can legally be fired from their job or evicted from their home because they love someone.”
“Michigan is freer and fairer today than it was yesterday,” Whitmer said.
Support for the court’s ruling was not unanimous. in one dissenting opinion On Thursday, Judge Brian Zahra wrote that while he believes the majority opinion is “a victory for many Michiganders,” he also believes his peers have overextended their power as Supreme Court justices.
“The duty of this court is to say what the law is, not what it thinks the law should be,” Zahra wrote. “But that’s exactly what a majority of this court here has done.”
Zahra argued that when ELCRA was passed in 1976, public understanding of the word “sex” was much narrower than it is today. According to Zahra, the law as amended does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation because the ELCRA was not enacted to protect sexual conduct.
“Context and intent matter when interpreting statutes,” Zahra wrote. “Reading it in context makes it abundantly clear that the simple and ordinary meaning of the word ‘sex’ in 1976 did not include sexual orientation.”
Released on July 29, 2022