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Religious freedom fight

By Lisa Brody
News Editor
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"I understood what he was saying. But, think about this, it's only one bill," Foster said. "He gave me a deadline of December 21 (2013), and then he filed to run against me. The rest is documented. He ran, and it was the highest primary turnout the district had ever seen.

"It was a campaign against gay rights."

Foster said he has no regrets. He disagreed with Chatfield, now the state representative for the district, on the issue, "and it's a socially conservative district. I knew what I was walking into. I told my staff, at the end of the day, all we've lost is our jobs. We've kept our ethics."

Despite losing the primary campaign, Foster stuck to his principles and pushed the amendment to the Elliott-Larsen bill during his last months in the state House.

What is the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, and why has it become such a political hot potato? Also known as Public Act 453 of 1976, the law is named after its two primary sponsors, Daisy Elliott (D-Detroit) and Melvin Larsen (R-Oxford). It prohibits discrimination on the basis of "religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status" in employment, housing, education, and access to public accommodations.

It passed in 1976 with 25 votes in the Michigan Senate, and 79 votes in the Michigan House, and was signed into law by Governor William Milliken. It has been in effect in Michigan since March 31, 1977.

According to interviews with Elliott and Larsen at the time, and written about in 2014 in MLive by Tim Skubick, the original legislation was meant to focus on African Americans, and it was believed that adding "sexual orientation" would prevent the bill from passing, so it was left out at the time. Many issues raised at the time by the disabled community were subsequently addressed with the passage of the Michigan's Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act in 1976.

Actual legislation to include the LGBT community wasn't introduced until 2005. Since, there have been several bills introduced to add protections for the LGBT community. Foster's bill, ultimately did not receive support from the LGBT community because the final draft only included sexual orientation and not gender identity; it was supported in hearing but did not receive a committee vote.

"We are actively seeking to achieve an (inclusive) Elliott-Larsen Act," said Cassandra Varner, communications and development director for Affirmations in Ferndale. "Last year it was modified to not include gender identity, and we feel very strongly that gender identity must be included as a recognized, protected class."

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