UPDATE: Michigan governor repeatedly punts on discrimination question

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Original article appeared on 429Magazine on 10.25.2013

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder seems unsure if he supports a measure to prevent anti-LGBT discrimination in the workplace; so far, he’s managed to never state a definite position.

Snyder was elected in 2010 and faces a potentially tough reelection campaign next year. In the past he’s been pretty consistent about not being a standard bearer for gay rights, opting to endorse civil unions over same-sex marriage in 2010 and signing a 2011 law curtailing the benefits domestic partners can receive (a federal judge blocked the law in 2013). But now, when pressed for a stance on workplace discrimination, Snyder has been consistently inconsistent.

“I’m staying focused on jobs, kids and seniors at this point,” Snyder said in June, adding, “I appreciate legislators looking at lots of issues and if they want to address that, that’s okay.” In September he repeated the “jobs and kids” line and again deferred to the legislature, suggesting that any new laws should go through the “normal legislative process.”

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights, an agency of Snyder’s own administration, released a report in 2013 saying that “All available evidence shows that discrimination based on sexual orientation exists, is significant, and has direct negative economic effects on Michigan.” A bill to protect LGBT workers has been presented in the state senate during Snyder’s term, but doesn’t appear to have the votes to pass.

At a press conference this week reporters tried in vain to wrangle a definite statement out of the governor, who said that he didn’t want people “fired for no good reason” but declined to say whether he considered sexual orientation or gender identity a good reason or not. “The question is: How should government be involved in that process and how active should it be?” Snyder said in response to further queries. He finished by once again pointing to the legislature and saying he would be “happy to have a discussion on it,” but only “at some point.”

No one at his office returned 429Magazine’s requests for comment about the issue. The campaign of Mark Schauer, Snyder’s presumed opponent in next year’s race, pounced on the governor’s vacillations. “It seems Governor Snyder is unwilling to answer simple questions,” Schauer’s director of communications, Zack Pohl, told us. “I think it speaks volumes about Rick Snyder that he won’t even support legislation to end discrimination.”

Snyder is hardly the first politician to stake out a position in no-man’s land on LGBT issues. President Obama, for example, declined to state a definite opinion about same-sex marriage for years, repeatedly saying he was “evolving” on the issue. Asked why voters should expect Snyder to stick his neck out going into an election year, Pohl said, “I think candidates should be held to a higher standard. We’ve got a challenger who believes in marriage equality and that we shouldn’t discriminate in the workplace and an incumbent who can’t make up his mind, and it’s up to the voters.”

Snyder’s office would not provide a response to Pohl’s comments either.

Analysts speculate that Snyder finds himself in a tenuous position as Tea Party-aligned forces challenge him from the right and may be mounting a campaign to replace his lieutenant governor, while at the same time national momentum seems to be shifting in favor of marriage equality and broader protections for LGBT rights, possibly placing Snyder in a no-win situation.

UPDATE 10.28.2013

Dave Murray, deputy press secretary for Governor Snyder’s office, reached out to 429Magazine on Monday, denying that the governor has been non-committal: “Discrimination is wrong, that’s the governor’s position,” Murray says. “He feels very strongly about that, and it’s a definite position, and there’s nothing indecisive or evasive about it.”

Asked whether, specifically, the governor objects to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, Murray repeated, “Discrimination is wrong, I want to come back to that. That is our position, and you can read whatever you want into it.”

Murray repeated Snyder’s expressed focus on creating jobs in Michigan and agreed that the MDCR report indicates that LGBT discrimination is a jobs-related issue, saying the governor hopes Michigan’s legislature addresses the matter. “There have to be jobs there for the state to grow, that’s job one.”

Murray declined to respond to the Schauer campaign, noting that “Mark Schauer is not a candidate yet, so we won’t reply to his statements.” For that matter, “We haven’t announced we’re running for anything next year either.”

Michigan’s filing deadline for major party candidates is in May, primaries are set for August, and the general election is November 4, 2014—fifty-three weeks from today—so there’s time yet to see how the race will shape up, and how the candidates’ positions on gay rights may affect the outcome.

429Magazine

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