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The battle over Ohio Fairness Act to protect LGBT rights

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Ohio Fairness Act

The battle over Ohio Fairness Act to protect LGBT rights

Supporters of the Ohio Fairness Act, a long-sought legislation protecting LGBT rights, are hoping the bill can finally pass after the recent Supreme Court decision favoring LGBT workers.

However, aside from facing opposition from conservatives, the proposed law must pass by year’s end or it needs to be reintroduced in the next legislative session by 2021.

The Ohio Fairness Act: 10 years and counting

The current version of the Act is the proposed Ohio House bill 369 and Senate Bill 11. Both bills would protect LGBT individuals from employment, housing, and public accommodation discrimination.

Similar bills have been introduced in every legislative session by Ohio Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) and others for the past ten years.

But with the recent high court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County wherein an employer who fired a worker for being gay or transgender violated the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, LGBT supporters are hopeful.

The Ohio Fairness Act specifies that any Ohio law about sex discrimination includes discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression.

The bill also allows mediation for the Ohio Civil Rights Commission to resolve disputes. So far, the Ohio House version has gained bipartisan support.

Speaking against the Ohio Fairness Act

State Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) said the Bostock decision makes the Ohio Fairness Act stronger “because Ohio law is in large measure patterned after federal law.”

However, Seitz said the bill still needs work, like providing religious exemptions like in the 2018 Supreme Court decision favoring a Colorado baker who didn’t want to make a gay couple’s wedding cake.

Meanwhile, a number of pastors and religious personalities are opposing House Bill 369 on moral grounds.

Curt Sharbaugh, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in New Carlisle, said this bill “favors one belief over others and is a step toward requiring everyone to live in conformity with that belief.”

“Parents have the right to expect that taxpayer dollars will fund education that does not reprogram their religiously held morality,” claimed Johnathan Newman of the Koinos Christian Fellowship in Dayton.

The religious right advocacy group, Citizens for Community Values, said the bill was “the single greatest threat to religious freedom, parental rights, and the privacy and safety of women and children.”

Attacks are mainly centered against transgender community

Alana Jochum, executive director of Equality Ohio, pointed out that most of the conservatives’ claims against the bill are targeted at the stereotypes about transgender individuals.

“I’m always surprised at these counters because there is nothing in the bill that says any of these things,” Jochum said.

Speaking with the Dayton Daily News, Antonio said Seitz’s claim is “a red herring” as the bill already allows for religious exemptions.

Many businesses support the bill with Stephanie Keinath, vice president of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, saying that “passing this legislation will better position them to recruit talent from across the country.”

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