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AG Nessel Argues Before Michigan Supreme Court On Major Gay Rights Case

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan's attorney general on Wednesday asked the state Supreme Court to overturn key decisions and extend the state's anti-discrimination law to gays and lesbians.

Attorney Dana Nussel, left, gestures with Jayne Rowse, center, and April DeBoer, plaintiffs in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, during a news conference after the same-sex marriage ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S., on Friday, June 26, 2015. Same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry nationwide, the U.S. Supreme Court said in a historic ruling that caps the biggest civil rights transformation in a half-century. Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg via Getty Images

People who claim discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation have not been protected by Michigan's civil rights law because the word "sex" in the law has been interpreted only as a reference to gender.

But Attorney General Dana Nessel, pointing to landmark gay rights decisions in federal courts, said it's time for the state Supreme Court to recognize that Michigan's anti-bias law means much more.

In 2019, Rouch World, an event center in Sturgis, declined to host a same-sex wedding, saying it conflicted with the owner's religious beliefs. That same year, a hair-removal business declined to serve a transgender woman.

The Court of Claims said in 2020 that it was bound by a Court of Appeals decision decades earlier that found sexual orientation wasn't covered by the civil rights law.

But Nessel, who is gay, said denying protections to lesbians and gays is a "severe and ongoing harm."

The civil rights law was "enacted to identify and correct inequalities in many aspects of public and private life, from employment to housing, to public accommodations and education," Nessel said in a court filing.

But lawyers for Rouch World said it's up to the Legislature, not courts, to expressly state that Michigan law bars discrimination based on sexual orientation.

They also noted that Rouch World's freedom to practice religion would be violated if forced to host same-sex weddings.

"Government authorities hold no power to dictate acceptable versus unacceptable exercises of religious conscience," David Kallman said in a court filing.

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