LANSING, Mich. (WXYZ) — On Wednesday, Michigan senators voted to expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include protections for LGBTQ people.
The bill passed with a bipartisan vote of 23 in favor and now heads to the Michigan House for consideration.
"We've waited four decades for this," said Samantha Rogers, a transgender activist, who started the nonprofit Teaching Detroit.
Rogers says as a transgender woman, she never wanted special treatment. She just wanted basic human rights.
"This thing with Elliot-Larsen, it changes so much. Transgender people are just trying to live their lives like anybody else," Rogers said. "We are not a threat to anybody."
The Michigan Senate passed an amendment to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act that explicitly includes protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. Specifically, the bill would stop someone from firing, evicting or otherwise discriminating against an individual because they are LGBTQ.
"We have a historic opportunity today to right a wrong that should have been righted decades ago," Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, said.
Opponents argued the bill could infringe on religious rights and create what's called a "super right" for the queer community.
An amendment introduced by Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, that would have amended the bill to include protections for religious orientation was not passed by the chamber. A disappointed Runestad said now the expansion could lead to religious discrimination.
"The change proposed to Elliot-Larsen goes too far because it seeks to protect one group of people at the expense of others," Sen. Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, said.
This historic move is largely credited to years of grassroots efforts.
Oscar Renautt did his part by starting the Unity Fund, an organization that helps put gay and trans people in office.
"Several candidates that we backed were elected and a couple of them are sponsoring this bill," Renautt said. "So, for us, it is a huge accomplishment."
Joshua Miller works alongside Renautt through Unity Fund. He is also the assistant district attorney for Oakland County.
He says the passing of Senate Bill 4 is a win, but he's sad it took so long.
"There are those stories out there of people who have been negatively impacted by this type of discrimination," Miller said. "It is too late for them, but we can make sure that it doesn't happen to others in the future."
Most Republicans voted no, but three GOP lawmakers joined the Democratic majority in the 23-15 vote.
"When you give rights to someone else, it doesn't take anything away from you, it just makes society better for everybody because it is a diverse world," Rogers said. "And ignoring that diversity just makes it somehow darker."
The bill is headed to the House where it's expected to pass, given democratic control of the chamber and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's support of the bill.