- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder warned Thursday that he would veto religious objections legislation unless lawmakers also send him a bill extending anti-discrimination protections to gays.

The Republican for months has expressed skepticism with a proposed state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Act if there is no accompanying measure to amend Michigan’s civil rights law by prohibiting discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents in employment, housing and places open to the public.

On Thursday, as Indiana and Arkansas scrambled amid criticism over religious objections bills, Snyder went further and told the Detroit Free Press he would veto such a bill if it came to his desk as stand-alone legislation.

“Given all the events that are happening in Indiana, I thought it would be good to clarify my position,” he said.

Michigan’s religious objections bill won approval along party lines from the Republican-controlled House in December’s lame-duck session but died in the GOP-led Senate. It was reintroduced in January and is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee. It also is included majority House Republicans’ two-year “action plan,” though no House bill has been introduced yet.

Supporters of the measure - which would provide a claim or defense to people who say their exercise of religion has been substantially burdened by the government - point to cases such as a suburban Denver baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding and is fighting an order requiring him to serve gay couples against his religious beliefs. Critics say the legislation would permit discrimination against gays.

Equality Michigan, an LGBT advocacy group, said it “appreciates” that Snyder supports updating the 1976 civil rights law.

“However, Michigan will not benefit from a so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and packaging these bills together could still harm Michigan families and bring the type of justified uproar to Michigan that Governor Snyder is trying to avoid,” executive director Emily Dievendorf said in a statement. “We call on the Governor to press harder for passage of an amendment to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act and that he veto any Religious Freedom Restoration Act, regardless of what it is packaged with.”

Sen. Mike Shirkey, a Clarklake Republican and sponsor of the religious objections bill, said Snyder’s veto threat shows that he is “not too willing to have a conversation about it.” The religious liberty bill and the anti-gay discrimination bill are “apples and oranges,” Shirkey said, arguing that the business community’s backlash over Indiana’s law is “hypocritical” because 19 other states have similar laws.

“Some of these very large corporations make millions and millions of dollars selling and marketing their products in countries who have horrible civil rights environments,” he said.

Shirkey said his legislation would prohibit laws and ordinances that infringe on people’s “strongly held” religious beliefs and “has nothing to do with private actions” such as a business refusing to serve a customer.

The law that Snyder wants to complement the religious objections measure - a business-backed update to Michigan’s anti-discrimination law to include LGBT residents - stalled in November without a vote.

A September poll conducted for The Detroit News and WDIV-TV by the Glengariff Group showed 74 percent of 600 likely state voters were in support of making it illegal to fire or deny housing to someone because he or she is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Eighteen percent were in opposition, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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Online:

Senate Bill 4: https://1.usa.gov/1DAF6wx

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Follow David Eggert at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00

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