Gay advocates in Ohio remain optimistic that a stalled gay protections bill approved last fall by the House remains viable.

Representative Dan Stewart's measure 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.

In September, 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 the session.

The bill then headed into the Republican-controlled Senate with an uncertain future.

Kim Welter, director of Programs and Outreach at Equality Ohio, the state's largest gay advocate, told On Top Magazine that Senate President Bill M. Harris, an Ashland Republican who has publicly questioned whether the bill's protections are needed, remains the measure's largest obstacle.

Harris, Welter explained, has yet to assign the bill to a committee seven months after the House approved the measure.

The bill has the support of the chamber's 12 Democrats, Welter said, adding that her group has identified as many as 8 Republican senators who might be open to voting for the measure.

“I think if we could get the bill to the floor, it would pass,” Welter said.

House Republicans who voted against the bill last year said they objected to its endorsement of 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 disagree with.”

In 2008, 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.”

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.

Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, a Democrat, has said he will sign the measure if it reaches his desk.