A couple of columns ago, I wrote about sitting in a chemo ward getting poison pumped into my body, worried that my insurance was about to run out. My wife’s insurance was not available to me since our marriage wasn’t recognized in Michigan. And while there were many people who contributed to this injustice, I hold one person in particular especially at fault: Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (rhymes with “booty”).
You see, he fought against marriage equality at every turn — all the way to the Supreme Court, in fact. Where he lost. And I won what should have been mine all along.
Now Schuette is spending his last year as AG running for governor. But he’s still finding time to continue his attack on LGBTQ people in Michigan.
You see, in May, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission decided that the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, Michigan’s civil-rights law, protects LGBTQ people from discrimination. This was a huge win for equality in Michigan, as adding sexual orientation and gender identity to Elliott-Larsen has been a goal for decades. Because up until May 22, LGBTQ people had no legal recourse when it came to discrimination in Michigan. That means it was perfectly legal to fire someone for being gay, or refuse to rent to someone who is trans, for example.
So of course, this made Schuette very unhappy. And so, at the request of Republicans in the legislature, on July 20, Schuette issued a formal option stating that Elliott-Larsen does not, in fact, protect LGBTQ people and that the MCRC overstepped its authority.
“Michigan’s constitution entrusts the legislature, and not executive agencies or commissions, with the authority to change, extend, or narrow statutes,” Schuette wrote in his opinion.
In a perfect world, we would have a legislature in Michigan that would, in fact, act to broaden protections. But we do not have that here. Instead, we have a heavily gerrymandered state heavily in favor of Republicans, which means the most extreme Republicans are often the ones who win elections. The people of Michigan do not have a representative democracy. We have a rigged system. Which means the legislature has refused to act over and over again because it is packed with people who don’t think LGBTQ people are fully human.
Now, you could say that Schuette only issued this ruling to throw meat to his base right before the Aug. 7 primary election, where he is the frontrunner for governor. But one could also say that telling LGBTQ people they aren’t fully human is very on-brand for Schuette because he is awful. Also — both things are true.
The scary thing is, Schuette isn’t even the most extreme candidate vying for governor on the Republican ticket. That’s how crazily right-wing the GOP is in Michigan. But make no mistake: Just because there’s someone worse, that doesn’t make Schuette better. It’s like being offered the choice of either having an arm or a leg broken. Choosing between bad options is no choice at all.
But here’s the good news: The Michigan Civil Rights Commission received Schuette’s opinion, read it, and told him to pound sand. They will keep investigating discrimination complaints based on sexual orientation and gender identity, thank you very much.
“The Michigan Civil Rights Commission is an independent, constitutionally created and established body,” MCRC Director Agustin Arbulu said in a statement. “The commission is not bound by the opinion of the attorney general. The only recourse is for the courts to determine if issuing the interpretive statement was within the scope of the commission’s authority, and that is the appropriate venue for resolving this issue.”
In other words, the MCRC told Schuette, “You’re not the boss of us,” while at the same time acknowledging that this issue will wind up in court, and welcoming that challenge.
Meanwhile, conservatives are calling for all the members of the MCRC to be removed by Gov. Rick Snyder, a man who poisoned an entire city and yet somehow still has his job.
The most obvious solution to the problem of anti-LGBTQ leadership in Michigan is to get rid of it. We must elect a Democratic governor and Dana Nessel as attorney general in November.
Nessel was the attorney behind the case challenging Michigan’s ban on adoption and marriage by same-sex couples. That case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where equality won. Having Nessel as Michigan’s next AG would be the most beautiful karmic justice in the world and would make me, a two-time cancer survivor, very happy. Check her out at dana2018.com.
D’Anne Witkowski is a poet, writer and comedian living in Michigan with her wife and son. She has been writing about LGBT politics for over a decade. Follow her on Twitter @MamaDWitkowski.