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Bolger considers adding sexual orientation to civil rights law

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Michigan State House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) could be opening the door to extending civil rights protections to gays and lesbians. That would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation in areas such as employment and housing.

The state's civil rights act protects a variety of groups from discrimination. It includes protections for categories like race and age, but sexual orientation has yet to be included.

Bolger says he wants to find a balance between religious and LGBT interests on an issue that is often politically divisive.

"I hate when these debates start to pit sides against each other, and those who are gay are dehumanized, and those who have religious beliefs are demonized," he said during a taping of the public TV show "Off the Record." "I think we need to get past that and we need to ask ourselves as a society, can we balance those?"

Bolger tread carefully around the issue of discrimination. He hopes to find a solution that will satisfy both religious groups and gay and lesbian activists.

"We shouldn't discriminate against people. At the same point, we ought to respect people who have deeply held religious beliefs, and we shouldn't discriminate against them, and we shouldn't force them to violate their deeply held religious beliefs," he said. "That's the push-pull. I'm interested in exploring, how can we respect both?"

Public opinion on related LGBT issues such as gay marriage has been shifting over the years. A poll conducted in May by the Glengariff Group -- a market research company that has been asking Michiganders about gay marriage annually since 2004 -- showed that 57 percent of those polled support same sex marriage.

This follows an overall national trend of shifting opinions on the issue.

-Sarah Kerson, Michigan Radio Newsroom