Late last week, I heard something disturbing from multiple sources.
They told me that Kary Moss, the head of the American Civil Liberties Union in Michigan, and some corporate leaders, had met with Governor Rick Snyder and asked him not to support a ballot drive to win constitutional civil protections for gay and transgender people.
When I asked her, Moss denied this. She said they had instead met with him to discuss, “the role that the business community can play in continuing to support his public commitment to this issue as well as keeping this issue in front of legislators, educating them in particular about the trans(gender) issue.”
In other words, the ACLU does not support the current bipartisan attempt to get a civil rights amendment on the ballot.
In reality that means that the ACLU is not willing to do anything meaningful to help these folks get their civil rights.
Thanks to gerrymandering, the Michigan Legislature is controlled by the religious right.
They have little use for gay people, and think transgender people are an abomination who should burn in hell.
The ACLU’s stand has deeply angered attorney Dana Nessel, who, as most now know, took on the state over Michigan’s unwillingness to allow two unmarried adults to adopt children.
Her plaintiffs were the now-famous nurses, Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer, who wanted to adopt the special needs children they’d taken care of as foster parents.
Nessel, with the help of a high-powered legal team, sued in federal court.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman not only ruled same-sex adoption was legal, he said same-sex marriage was a constitutional right as well. Their case was eventually bundled with others, and this June, the United States Supreme Court agreed.
Same-sex marriage became a constitutional right everywhere.
But in Michigan, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have few civil rights.
You can get married on Saturday and fired on Monday for no greater reason than that your boss hates gay people. Some insurance companies contend they don’t have to supply the same benefits to same-sex spouses as they do to heterosexual ones.
This is a monstrous injustice.
This is not, by the way, a partisan issue. Richard McLellan, a conservative attorney long highly influential in Republican politics, has joined Nessel in calling for a constitutional amendment. But she tells me the ACLU is going to corporations and telling them not to give money to help get this on the ballot.
The ACLU denies this.
They do say they fear that if an amendment is defeated it will make matters worse for gay and transgender people. People might be beaten up and killed.
Well, that’s happening now.
I remembered what so-called moderates told Martin Luther King 60 years ago, "better go slow -- whites aren’t ready to let you vote."
His answer, which the ACLU would do well to re-read, can be found in his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail.
I never thought I’d see the day when Dick McLellan had the guts to do the right thing on civil rights and the ACLU didn’t, but in Michigan today, that’s where we are.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.