The Ohio House is expected to vote today on a bill that would make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity (transgender protections) in the areas of employment, public accommodations and credit.

The legislation is expected to be approved in the Democratically-controlled House, but passage in the Senate remains uncertain. Senate President Bill Harris, a Republican from Ashland, has questioned whether the bill's protections are needed.

Democratic Representative Dan Stewart's Equal Housing and Employment Act (EHEA) has attracted the support of 27 Democrats and two Republicans in the 99-member House. Stewart has introduced similar legislation in previous sessions but the bills never came up for a vote.

While voters approved by a large margin 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 gay protections, with 35% in opposition.

A similar gay protections bill has been introduced in Congress, but Congressman Barney Frank's Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) only outlaws discrimination in the workplace.

Kim Welter, program manager for education and outreach at Equality Ohio, says the law is needed even if Congress approves ENDA.

“ENDA is a good thing, but ENDA is employment only,” Welter told On Top Magazine last month. “House Bill 176 [EHEA] 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 ENDA.”