By John Irwin
Gov. Rick Snyder called on the state legislature to reintroduce a bill that would extend state anti-discrimination protections to Michigan’s gay and transgender residents during his State of the State address last week.
The proposal drew applause from Democrats and some of Snyder’s fellow Republicans, but only the reaction of one legislator — Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter — really mattered.
“That’s a discussion we had last session. I’m not looking to bring that up.”
So much for that.
Cotter, Mount Pleasant’s three-term GOP state legislator, not only rebuked his party’s leader in declining to reintroduce the legislation, he rebuked his constituents — the same constituents he says he always fights for in Lansing.
In fact, Mount Pleasant is already ahead of Cotter on this issue. The city commission unanimously passed an ordinance in 2012 that prohibited employment and housing discrimination against the LGBTQ community.
The city has spoken. It wants protections extended to gay and transgender residents. So, why shouldn’t Cotter allow the bill to be reintroduced?
Of course, it has little chance of passing a legislature that is dominated by conservative Republicans. But even if it fails to pass, allowing the bill to be discussed further and to be voted on would, at the very least, send the message to Mount Pleasant residents that Cotter hears them and will fight for them.
Instead, as we’ve seen before from him, it appears that Cotter will only fight for Mount Pleasant’s interests if those interests align closely with those of the deeply conservative base of the Republican Party.
That base is also looking increasingly out-of-touch with where America stands on gay rights. Seventy-six percent of Americans think it should be illegal for someone to be fired because of their sexual orientation, according to a 2014 YouGov poll.
According to that same poll, most Americans (62 percent) think an anti-discrimination law is already on the federal books.
Additionally, while a record 55 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage and 36 states now recognize it, Michigan remains behind.
An upcoming Supreme Court case might change that for Michigan and the other 13 states, but the state could have taken a large step forward on its own by passing the anti-discrimination legislation.
But Cotter, in turning his backs on his constituents, made sure Michigan will remain behind.