LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan senators voted Wednesday to expand the state's civil rights law to include the LGBTQ community and prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.
Democrats, who took full control of state government for the first time in 40 years, have made amending Michigan's 1976 Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act a top priority after decades of seeing such efforts blocked by Republicans.
"This has been a long journey of real people here who have suffered and people who have died waiting for this moment to come," state Sen. Jeremy Moss, the bill's sponsor, after the vote. "We are taking this baton and running to the finish line."
Moss, who is gay, delivered an impassioned speech on the Senate floor before the bill passed 23-15, with three Republicans voting to support it. The bill still needs House approval before heading to the governor's desk.
"Just this last week, I heard from a former friend and an 80-year-old woman who cut out everyone from her life when she moved into a senior living facility," Moss said. "She said, 'No longer a lesbian, just a bridge player.'"
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The woman, Moss said, "didn't want to lose a secure place to live in her remaining years."
A large majority of Senate Republicans opposed the measure, arguing that it could infringe on religious groups' rights.
Michigan's civil rights act prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public services based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status or marital status.
Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel, the first openly LGBTQ person elected statewide in Michigan, said during a roundtable near Detroit on Feb. 24 that without legal remedies, many LGBTQ community members have stayed silent when faced with discrimination.
As a private practice attorney, Nessel said, she was presented with discrimination cases "on a daily basis."
"I had to tell those people, 'I'm so sorry. I wish there was something I could do. There's no law to enforce here,'" Nessel said.
Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also attended the Feb. 24 roundtable and said she plans to sign the bill.