91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Gay rights continue to be an issue in Michigan's GOP races

 Here we are, trying to shake some more truth out of Tuesday’s primary results. And there is still at least one lingering result that has people continuing to wonder what exactly happened and why. And that would be Republican Representative Frank Foster’s primary loss to Tea Party challenger Lee Chatfield.

It’s not that people didn’t think a Tea Party win was possible. In fact, the Tea Party took aim at quite a few GOP incumbents over their votes for the Medicaid expansion and the Common Core education standards.

But every single other incumbent state lawmaker survived.

In Foster’s case, though, there were a couple of distinctions. Foster was identified by a political newsletter as one of Lansing’s most lobbyist-wined and dined. It’s never good when an incumbent is targeted as having “gone native” in Lansing or D.C.

Foster was also the identified Millennial Republican who was going to sponsor legislation to add LGBT protections to Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

Now, we may never know what the tipping point was in the Foster race but, LGBT rights were certainly an issue.

The GOP-establishment vs. Tea Party fight continues

On Tuesday, Tea Partiers did pretty well in primaries for open Republican seats. Gary Glenn, co-author of Michigan’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, is one of a cadre of anti-gay Tea Partiers who appear poised to head to Lansing next year. So is Todd Courser (the rebel-rouser who almost toppled the state Republican chair at a GOP party convention).

Clearly, the civil war between the Republican establishment and the Tea Party is not over.

On the Democratic side however, not only did pro-gay rights candidates win lots of primaries but, for the first time in Michigan, two openly gay candidates won their primaries for open House seats.

The takeaway: being pro-gay rights can still lose you a Republican primary; while being gay is no longer a barrier to winning a Democratic seat.

Interestingly enough, Frank Foster suffered the same fate 30 years later that state Representative Jim Dressel – Republican of Holland – did after he introduced a bill in 1984 to add sexual orientation to the civil rights law.

What does this mean for LGBT rights going forward?

Foster’s loss may actually turn up the pressure on Republican leaders to do something very soon about LGBT protections and the civil rights law.

Governor Snyder says he expects it. So does Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville. “I see it coming up in September. We’d have to see about the vetting process. I don’t know that it would just include one specific set of protected classes. I would think that debate might expand to other areas,” Richardville told the Michigan Public TV political affairs show, “Off the Record” in July.

Those “other areas” that Richardville mentioned would be protections or exceptions of some type for people who have a religious objection (we’ll see if that doesn’t become a “poison pill” that kills the whole thing).

If not now, when?

If adding LGBT rights to Elliott Larsen doesn’t get done this year, and presuming Republicans retain control of the state House, an influx of anti-gay Tea Partiers suggest it’s not going to happen next year.

And, it may just be a coincidence, but on Wednesday we also had the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals take up the case on Michigan’s same-sex marriage amendment, as well as same-sex marriage bans in three other states.

A central question in that case was, is this the time for federal courts to step in and settle the gay marriage controversy by judicial fiat – to declare that it’s a right? Or would it be better to leave it to the political process – to voters and legislatures – to try and move closer to a national consensus on the question?  

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.
Related Content