Michigan Catholics have voiced resounding support for legal protections for LGBTQ+ people in areas of housing and employment, according to a new statewide survey. The poll comes as Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is trying to add protections for gay, lesbian, and transgender residents to the state’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which provides rights for protected groups in areas of employment and housing.
Catholicism is the largest religion in religion in the state, making up 18% of Michigan residents. They made up a slightly larger percentage of the Glengariff Group poll, with 22% of the 600 respondents identifying as Catholic, reported CrainsDetroit.com. In responding to a direct question on an employer’s ability to fire a worker for their gender or sexual identity based on the employer’s “own religious beliefs,” 83% of the surveyed Catholics voted in favor of protecting the worker. According to Pollster Richard Czuba, “when you’re polling in the 80 percent or higher range, voters are unanimous.”
In addition, 62% of Catholics support legislation that would prevent landlords from denying housing based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Czuba says, “the voters in the pews flat out don’t agree with the lobbyists of the Catholic Conference.”
The Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC), which represents the state’s Catholic bishops, expressed opposition to the proposed law. Tom Hickson, MCC vice president for public policy, criticized the poll for not “informing voters that faith-based exemptions for employers are common law across the US.”
Michigan would be leading the way in expanding these rights for LGBTQ+ citizens. Hickson sees this as reason to prevent the change, saying: “Religious liberty protections for faith-based employers are inherent to civil rights across the country. Michigan would be the first state to exclude such protections if the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act were to be amended in the manner as proposed.”
It’s not just Catholics who were firmly in support of the expanded protections to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The polling found nearly 65% support among Baptists and nearly 66% from voters who self-identify as ‘strong Republicans.’ Altogether, 79% of respondents were in opposition to a religious exemption to the expanded protections. The fact that such rights are not already enshrined in law came as a surprise to many voters in Michigan and beyond: 81% of voters in this poll reportedly responded that they thought it was ‘already illegal’ to ‘fire someone or deny them housing because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.’
Erin Knott, interim executive director at LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Michigan, says that the poll results reflect the ways that the LGBTQ community has become integrated with voters in all areas of public life. “I think, over time, people are starting to see members of the LGBTQ community were everywhere…We are in your neighborhood, we’re at your place of employment, we share meals with you down on Main Street at the local diner. We’re teaching your kids; we serve as local elected officials.”
Knott’s idea that LGBTQ people are everywhere could also be extended to members of faith communities: clergy and laypeople, Catholic school teachers and bus drivers, godparents, and students making their first confirmation. Michigan voters are aligned with the majority of Catholics in demanding equal protection for all members of the LGBTQ community under the law.
–Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, August 1, 2019