GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan businesses cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation under the state’s civil rights act, the state Supreme Court has ruled.
The decision came Thursday in Rouch World, LLC v. Department of Civil Right. The suit was filed by Rouch World, a wedding venue in Sturgis that would not host the wedding of a same-sex couple, and Uprooted Electrolysis in Marquette, which would not provide hair-removal services to a woman who is transgender. The owners of both businesses said it was against their religious beliefs.
According to court documents, the couple, Natalie Johnson and Megan Oswalt, and the woman who is transgender, Marissa Wolfe, filed a complaint with the Department of Civil Rights. The department, which has argued Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act covers sexual orientation and gender identity, opened an investigation. That investigation was stayed when the business owners brought the issue to court. The Court of Claims ruled that the state’s civil rights act does not cover sexual orientation but does cover gender identity. The Michigan Supreme Court then agreed to hear the case to determine if the civil rights act does cover discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In an opinion issued by Justice Elizabeth Clement and joined by Chief Justice Bridget McCormack, Justice Richard Bernstein, Justice Megan Cavanagh and Justice Elizabeth Welch, the Supreme Court ruled the state’s civil rights act does protect against discrimination over sexual orientation, because the civil rights act covers discrimination based on sex.
“Rouch World denied female complainant Johnson’s request for services related to her wedding with female complainant Oswalt. Had Johnson instead been a male, Rouch World would not have denied its services,” the majority opinion says. “In other words, but for Johnson’s sex, Rouch World would have rendered its services to Johnson.”
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, who had filed a bypass application to get the case to the state Supreme Court instead of the Court of Appeals, said in a statement it is “critical” to protect the rights of residents.
“Now, more than ever, it is critical that those of us elected to public office work to preserve and protect the rights of all residents. Today’s ruling confirms what we have long known—that the protections afforded by the ELCRA cover all Michiganders,” Nessel stated.
Nessel also called for protections to be written into law.
“While we were once a nation that respected the value of legal precedent to help preserve our rights, that may no longer be the case,” she said. “Now is the time to enshrine our rights in law to ensure no person in this state ever experiences barriers to employment, housing, education, or public accommodations and services because of who they are or whom they love.”
After the decision, she spoke during a news conference on what it will mean for LGBTQ Michigan residents.
“It means no longer having your state government be permitted to view you as a second class citizen,” she said. “It means better opportunities for jobs, knowing you can live wherever you can afford to, not having to worry about a diner or a coffee shop say, ‘We won’t serve you here.’ Or a ride share service say, ‘I won’t drive you in my car.’ It means respect, it means equal dignity under the law.”
Thursday was Nessel’s seventh anniversary with her wife. She said she is proud to have been able to argue the case.
In Grand Rapids, a wedding venue has said it will not host weddings for same-sex couples or transgender couples. It is being investigated by the city to determine if it is violating the local human rights ordinance.