State election board OKs gay rights petition

LANSING — Supporters of amending Michigan’s constitution to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity cleared an initial procedural step Tuesday when the Michigan Board of State Canvassers approved the form and wording of the petition.

The Fair Michigan ballot committee’s petition form, in order to make the November 2016 statewide ballot, will require about 315,000 valid voter signatures.

The deadline for submitting the signatures is July 11, Elections Bureau Director Chris Thomas said.

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

Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for Fair Michigan, said the group — co-chaired by Detroit civil rights attorney Dana Nessel and Republican attorney and Lansing insider Richard McLellan — will start collecting signatures in January.

The Republican-controlled Legislature has blocked bills to protect gay and transgender residents by updating Michigan’s civil rights law. Gay rights advocates are divided over whether a ballot proposal should be initiated, however.

Stephanie White, executive director of Equality Michigan, which advocates for Michigan’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, said she’s looked at the data and believes “there isn’t a path to win in 2016 at the ballot box.”

That’s a problem because hate speech and even violence against LGBT people tends to increase during such a campaign, White said. Politicians who have been working legislatively on extending full civil rights to LGBT people tend to pull back when such an issue goes on the ballot and then could become fearful of voting yes if the measure loses, she said.

Wurfel said both groups agree “discrimination should be ended and everybody should be treated fairly.” Outreach continues to reach more consensus on tactics, she said.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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