Ohio will debate a bill that makes it
illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender
identity next month. House Speaker Armond Budish, a Democrat from
Beachwood, has promised Rep. Dan Stewart's Equal Housing and
Employment Act (EHEA) will be among the first the chamber takes up
when lawmakers return in the fall.
Budish spoke to Cleveland daily the
Plain Dealer of his plans.
“It's important to make sure that all
Ohioans have equal rights when it comes to employment and it comes to
housing,” he said. “Right now, Ohio law does not make it illegal
to fire someone based on their sexual orientation, nor does not make
it illegal to refuse housing or refuse an apartment based on it.”
While much of the debate on gay and
lesbian rights is dominated by the right to marry and the right to
serve openly in the military, Ohio – like the majority of states –
is struggling to provide basic rights to gay men and lesbians.
Voters in Ohio passed a constitutional amendment that bans both gay
marriage and civil unions in 2004.
Support for gay protections appears
strong in Ohio. A June Quinnipiac University poll found that a
majority (57%) of voters favor EHEA, with 35% in opposition. And the
bill has attracted the support of 27 Democrats and two Republicans in
the 99-member House.
Still, passage is not a forgone
conclusion, especially in the Republican-led Senate, where the bill
has yet to be introduced.
Kim Welter, program manager for
education and outreach at Equality
Ohio, a group that lobbies on behalf of the LGBT community, told
On Top Magazine that passage in the Democratic-controlled
House is fairly certain.
“The yes votes are holding,” she
said, referring to last year's House approval.
The inclusion of transgender
protections in Ohio's bill has not drawn the fire that it has in
other states, North Dakota, New Hampshire and Massachusetts included,
but similar testimony was heard during the bill's House State
Government Committee hearing held in June.
Chris Long, executive director of the
Christian-based group Ohio Christian Alliance, testified: “It would
open Pandora's Box. Were this bill to become law, businesses may be
compelled to provide restroom facilities accommodating transgender
and cross-dressing individuals. Public schools may be forced to hire
a man who dresses as a woman to be a 3rd grade teacher.
Employers may have to provide costly medical benefits to pay for sex
altering surgeries and treatments. This bill could ultimately be
used to undermine and challenge our state's constitution, which
recognizes marriage as a union between one man and one woman,
according to some legal analysts.”
When asked if her group had been
pressured to drop the transgender provisions, Welter said some had
suggested the modification would make the bill an easier sell, but
said her group never considered it.
“We would not support a bill that did
not include gender identity,” Welter said.
Whether a fully inclusive bill lessens
the chances of approval is questionable. Several municipalities and
states attempting to pass bills that only cover sexual orientation
have run into just as much opposition from socially conservative and
In Anchorage, Alaska the public outcry
against the inclusion of transgender persons was so loud that
lawmakers cut them out of a final gay protections bill, but opponents
remained unsatisfied. One draft of the bill being circulated
actually made it lawful to discriminate against gay men and lesbians.
In the end, the entire bill was shelved as a new, unsympathetic
mayor was installed.
President Obama supports similar
federal legislation being considered by Congress that bans employment
discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender
Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was introduced in the Senate
Welter points out that EHEA remains
necessary: “ENDA is a good thing, but ENDA is employment only.
House Bill 176 includes housing and public accommodations, as well as
credit. So even if ENDA goes through, we still need HB176 to pick up
that very important housing piece, which would not be included in