Judge gives time to LGBT rights drive, won’t cut signatures

Coronavirus

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A Michigan judge on Wednesday gave an LGBT rights ballot drive more time to collect signatures due to coronavirus restrictions but refused the group’s request to slash the number of signatures needed to make the November ballot.

The ruling from Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens means a 69-day period — the length of stay-at-home orders that were in effect from March 24 to June 1 — will not count as part of a 180-day window in which Fair and Equal Michigan’s petitions must be gathered. She declined, however, a plea by the group and two Democratic lawmakers to reduce the 340,000-signature requirement to 127,000.

Stephens said delegates who wrote the 1963 state constitution “intended that it be difficult to invoke the initiative process, and this intent acknowledged the notion that many proposed initiatives would not make the ballot.”

The ballot committee’s proposal would change Michigan’s civil rights 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.”

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