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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 1, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 01
Michigan group one step closer to LGBT rights ballot measure
But can it win?
Section One
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Michigan group one step closer to LGBT rights ballot measure
But can it win?

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A Michigan LGBT rights group called Fair Michigan has been cleared to begin collecting signatures for a state constitutional amendment banning discrimination against LGBT residents.

If the group can get 315,000 valid signatures by July 11, 2016, the measure would go on the November ballot. Fair Michigan spokesperson Sara Wurfel said her group would begin gathering signatures in January.

The Michigan state constitution bars discrimination because of religion, race, color, or national origin. The amendment would add gender, gender identity, sex, and sexual orientation protections.

The petition campaign does not have the backing of Equality Michigan, the state's largest LGBT rights group, or of the ACLU. Those groups prefer to continue lobbying the state legislature for statutory protections.

Stephanie White, executive director of Equality Michigan, said she has looked at polling data and believes 'there isn't a path to win in 2016 at the ballot box.'

Wurfel said all activists agree that 'discrimination should be ended and everybody should be treated fairly.' Discussions to reach consensus on tactics will continue, she said.

On the other hand, Fair Michigan supporter and blogger Susan Demas was openly dismissive of Equality Michigan's strategy in a November blog post on MLive.com.

'Same-sex marriage polls at 55 percent in Michigan, which is amazing progress. But an even more impressive 77 percent support protecting LGBTs from jobs and housing discrimination - including 71 percent of strong Republicans.

'And the amendment would be up during a presidential election, which typically attracts younger and more liberal voters.

'But I've been saddened to see that not all LGBT activists are on board. New Equality Michigan head Stephanie White wants to double down on lobbying a hostile legislature.

'That's a losing strategy. The soonest you could see real progress is 2019, when a new Senate will be in place. And then it's still unlikely.'

Michigan's legislature is currently dominated by Republicans, who enjoy a 27-to-11 majority in the Senate and a 61-to-46 majority in the House. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder could also veto LGBT rights legislation even if a bipartisan majority passed it.

Fair Michigan also has claims to bipartisan support. The group is co-chaired by Detroit civil rights attorney Dana Nessel, who represented plaintiffs in what became the Obergefell same-sex marriage case, and Republican attorney Richard McLellan.

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