DETROIT (AP) — The Michigan Supreme Court on Thursday said the state’s anti-discrimination law covers sexual orientation, a victory for LGBTQ residents.
The court, in a 5-2 opinion, said the word “sex” in Michigan’s key civil rights law applies to more than gender.
While the Legislature in 1976 might have intended to help women when it barred discrimination based on sex, “this motivation does not curtail other applications of the plain statutory language,” Justice Elizabeth Clement wrote for the majority.
She noted that the law has been applied in pregnancy discrimination cases, same-sex sexual harassment and disputes over retirement accounts.
The decision means legal protections for LGBTQ people in employment, housing, education and public accommodations, said Jay Kaplan of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.
“All people belong,” he said.
In 2019, Rouch World, an event center in Sturgis, Michigan, 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.
“Where the discriminator tolerates certain characteristics in one sex but not the other, discrimination on the basis of sex has occurred,” the Supreme Court said.
Lawyers for Rouch World said it was up to the Legislature, not courts, to expressly state that Michigan law bars discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In a 33-page dissent, Justice Brian Zahra embraced that argument. He acknowledged that the result was a “victory for a good many Michiganders” but said the court’s role is to “say what the law is, not what it thinks the law ought to be.”
“No person familiar with the common usage of the English language in 1976 would have understood the ordinary meaning of ‘sex’ to include ‘sexual orientation,’” said Zahra, who added there’s evidence that lawmakers at that time rejected those two words.
Attorney General Dana Nessel, who is gay and had argued in favor of an expansive interpretation of the law, praised the outcome.
“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,” Nessel, a Democrat, said.
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