The Ohio House of Representatives has
approved House Bill 176, Representative Dan Stewart's gay protections
bill. The bill now heads to the Senate.
Five Republican lawmakers crossed the
aisle to join all Democrats in attendance in voting in favor of the
bill on a 56 to 38 vote. Five Democratic lawmakers did not attend
Stewart, a Democrat from Columbus,
jointly sponsored the bill with Representative Ross McGregor, a
Republican from Springfield.
“This is not special rights. These
are rights all Ohioans are afforded,” Stewart said of his bill,
also known as the Equal Housing and Employment Act (EHEA). Stewart
has introduced similar legislation in previous sessions but the bills
never came up for a vote.
The proposed legislation 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.
Dissenting Republicans said they
objected to the bill on the premise it would endorse being gay.
“When you get down to the root of
House Bill 176, it is not really about people being denied rights to
basic needs, which is the premise the bill was sold on,”
Representative Jeff Wagner said during debate on the House floor.
“It is about forcing acceptance of a lifestyle that many people
Last year, Wagner's comments on the
bill were a bit more direct. In an email written to an Ohio
constituent he called the bill “dangerous” and “misguided,”
and concluded with: “Rest assured I can not support a bill that in
any way promotes or encourages the homosexual lifestyle.”
The bill, however, is expected to hit
major turbulence in the Republican-led Senate. Senate President Bill
Harris, a Republican from Ashland, has questioned whether the bill's
protections are needed.
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.