LGBT rights ballot drive sues to cut requirement

By David Eggert
Associated Press

LANSING (AP) — A group organizing a ballot drive to add LGBT anti-discrimination protections to Michigan’s civil rights law is suing the state, saying coronavirus restrictions made it impossible to collect the required 340,000 valid voter signatures.

Fair and Equal Michigan and two Democratic legislators sought an injunction from the state Court of Claims this week reducing the signature requirement to roughly 127,000 signatures.

The suit also seeks to delay a deadline by which signatures must be submitted and — if that is not granted — requests that signatures be counted in future elections.

Trevor Thomas, co-chair of the ballot committee, said it gathered 100,000 signatures in five weeks but it became tougher to circulate petitions each day after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared an emergency on May 10.

The group adjusted by trying to go door to door, he said, but residents were hesitant.

It had also planned to collect signatures at large public events and high-traffic city sidewalks.

It had nearly 178,000 signatures as of Sunday, with roughly 135,000 projected to be valid.

“The Constitution grants the people the power to propose and to enact laws,” said Steven Liedel, the ballot drive's lawyer. “The pandemic made exercising that right an insurmountable’ task by forcing the collection of signatures during a limited number of days.”

If the ballot committee is successful, the initiated bill would go to lawmakers and, because the Republican-led Legislature would likely not act, to a public vote in November.

The proposal would update the law to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

Religion-based discrimination, which already is barred, would be defined to include an individual’s “religious beliefs.”

The suit notes that the state agreed to lower the signature requirement for congressional candidates after a court ruled it burdened their constitutional rights amid the pandemic.

It names Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in her official capacity, state elections director Jonathan Brater and the bipartisan Board of State Canvassers. A Benson spokesman declined to comment and said the department had not yet reviewed the complaint.

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