Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer poses with legislation she signed to expand protections to the state's LGBTQ community. Photo courtesy of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer/Facebook
March 17 (UPI) -- Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has signed legislation to amend the state's discrimination law to expand civil rights protections to members of the LGBTQ community.
Whitmer signed the legislation Thursday that adds the LGBTQ community as a protected class to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976.
"It is a new day in Michigan," she said during a press conference Thursday before signing bipartisan Senate Bill 4, which passed the Senate 23-18 and then the House 64-45 earlier this month to expand the landmark legislation.
The bill specifically codifies protections from housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identify or expression.
"In other words, it ensures that no one can be fired from their job or evicted from their home because of who they are or who they love," the Democratic governor said. "This day has been a long time coming. You can say, to quote one of our own, Detroit native Lizzo, 'It is about damn time!'"
Gretchen, whose daughter, Sherry, is gay and who was present at the press conference, added that the issue is personal to her, and that her family and those she works with are freer today than yesterday because of the signing of the law.
"Getting this done is the right thing to do. But it is also good economics because bigotry is bad for business," she said. "States with restrictive laws are losing talent and businesses, and we want to tell all of them, come to Michigan. You'll be respected and protected under the law."
Former state Rep. Mel Larsen, who helped author the bill that bears his name, said during the press conference that the landmark legislation's intent was "that every citizen of Michigan has a right to be protected."
"For all of us sitting in this room, the biggest, best thing I can say to you is we're on this Earth to move the pendulum a little bit in our lifetime, and if we do, by God, we've done something," he said.
Human Rights Watch, the United States' largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, celebrated the bill's signing, stating that it was the product of more than 40 years of advocacy in the state, and is a "repudiation" against Republican lawmakers nationwide seeking to pass bills that restrict the rights of the minority community.
"This is an incredible and historic day for LGBTQ+ people, for the people of Michigan and for all Americans across our nation," Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said in a statement. "The passage of the ELCRA amendment is a beacon of hope for those fighting for their rights. In states like Tennessee or Florida or Oklahoma, this is a reminder that when we come together as one we can and we will build a better future for everyone, including for LGBTQ+ people."
Michigan passed and enacted the amendment as Republican lawmakers attempt to pass bills advocates and human rights activists describe as anti-LGBTQ legislation.
The American Civil Liberties Union says it is tracking 421 such bills across the country.
According to Human Rights Watch, with Michigan amending its Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act on Thursday, 28 states lack laws that explicitly protect LGBTQ people from discrimination.