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Despite waffling, Snyder did join call to add LGBT protections to state's civil rights law

This week at the annual Detroit Regional Chamber’s policy conference on Mackinac Island, Governor Snyder joined the chorus of people calling for an update to Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights act to include protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people… sort of.

There is a lot of spoon-feeding to the press here on the Island – a litany of press conferences and media scrums. And, yesterday, one of those press conferences was held by a group of business leaders who want LGBT protections rolled into the civil rights law.

Meanwhile, at almost the exact same time as these business leaders were making their announcement, the Governor was talking to us, telling us he thought the legislature ought to take the issue up.

But, did he actually endorse it? “I’m encouraging them to say there’s been a lot of dialog and discussion on this. It’s been healthy in the public and I think it could be an appropriate topic for the legislators to take up. I would appreciate that,” the Governor said. And, that statement is fairly typical of the multiple exchanges we had with the governor on this topic.

At first, yesterday morning, he appeared to have jumped onboard with the push for inclusion of LGBT rights into Elliott-Larsen but, when pressed further, he returned to his equivocal ways that come with this issue.

It’s a little bizarre. He asks the Legislature to do all the things that would  typically culminate in lawmakers voting on a bill and sending it to him to be signed into law but, then when you ask him if that’s what he meant, we got, “I didn’t say that. What I would say is I would really appreciate them taking up the issue and reviewing and considering it and I don’t believe in discrimination.”

Classic Snyder-speak.

In fact, we have reconstructed the Nerd’s marriage proposal to Michigan’s First Lady, Sue Snyder. We imagine the governor dropped to one knee, and it went something like this, “I’m here to dialog on an invitation to join me at an appointed time at a fixed location with an altar and an officiant present for an event that as a practical matter may or may not occur.”

We kid, of course. But, with all silliness aside, the fact is the governor did join the call to update the law. There is no other purpose for a governor to say the Legislature should take up a question except to pass a bill and send it to him or her.

For many Republicans, they feel this is the time to add LGBT rights to Elliott-Larsen. Every time Michigan’s National Republican Committeeman Dave Agema spouts off on the dangers of homosexuality, it really just adds fuel to the push for Republicans to find a way to pivot off the question.

And, don’t forget, Governor Snyder is still the named defendant in the legal challenge to Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban. And, remember, too, that business people here – organizations like the Detroit Regional Chamber, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Business leaders for Michigan – are the governor’s people. Not just joined at the hip, they are joined at the brain.

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

This move on LGBT rights also suggests Team Snyder is feeling confident about managing the upcoming summer Michigan Republican convention – where he wants to fend off a Tea Party challenge to Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley. There’s been a big precinct delegate recruitment effort and the hiring of a political consultant known for managing Republican conventions.

So, next, the Legislature will likely begin its summer break in a couple weeks after it deals with the state’s part in the Detroit bankruptcy and road funding. Nothing, we can assume, on Elliott-Larsen until after the August primaries.

And, we’ll see if lawmakers like state Representative Frank Foster make it through their primaries. Foster, a 20-something Republican lawmaker for up north, is likely the Representative who will sponsor adding LGBT protections to the civil rights bill with the express intent of signaling that times have changed and this is not your grandfather’s Republican Party.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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