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