Snyder’s leadership avoids Indiana repeat

Gov. Rick Snyder’s direct statement that he will not sign a religious freedom bill in Michigan unless it is accompanied by civil rights protections for sexual orientation and gender identity should have Michiganders sighing in relief.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s direct statement that he will not sign a religious freedom bill in Michigan unless it is accompanied by civil rights protections for sexual orientation and gender identity should have Michiganders sighing in relief.

It’s past time for statesman-like leadership on this important issue.

After watching Indiana politicians bumbling through their own fiasco, Michigan lawmakers should think very hard about what they do next.

To recap Indiana’s events: Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a bill he and other conservatives said was needed to protect people with sincerely held religious beliefs. But Indiana has no civil rights protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and wording of its new law raised alarm that businesses would be able to deny service to LGBT patrons.

Pence and others tried to calm concerns and reassure Hoosiers and others that the law was being misunderstood. That didn’t hold back the rapid reaction of business leaders. Major employers and organizations that generate huge economic activity in the state (the NCAA, for one), immediately expressed doubts about their future activities in Indiana. Significant national conventions canceled bookings. Performers canceled concerts. And on it went.

Within a day, Pence and GOP legislative leaders brought in business leaders to negotiate a revised bill and raced to enact it on Thursday. Still, concern lingers about the environment that produced the first bill and whether the revisions offer enough protection.

That’s what Michigan’s politicians must avoid — that long-term, intangible cost of a ruined reputation. The Great Lakes State already is at the center of the national debate about LGBT civil rights, with a case from here headed to the Supreme Court likely to settle key questions about same-sex marriage and adoption rights.

And last year, a group of prominent business leaders called for expansion of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include LGBT people. The effort fell apart when conservatives paired an RFRA with it. The religious protections did pass in the House, but the Senate failed to take it up and the bill died.

A new version was introduced in January, however. That’s why it was vital that Snyder spoke up, signaling to Michigan lawmakers that he won’t let them gambol down Indiana’s path of missteps and stumbles.

Expand Elliott-Larsen, and do it soon. And be cautious about using “religious freedom” to undermine the rights of others.

— LANSING STATE JOURNAL