The legislation is backed by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Business Competes, Equality Ohio, ACLU of Ohio and others. Bills being introduced in the House and Senate each have bipartisan support.
State Sen. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, said making the Fairness Act state law would signal that Ohio is open for business and welcomes all families.
Kevin Shimp of the Ohio Chamber said the business groups back the bills because “discrimination in the workplace is toxic” and Ohio can’t afford to be hostile to the LGBTQ community.
The bill faces an uphill climb.
Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, who can block or move any bill, said he opposes the bill and views it as a potential burden on employers.
Huffman said he supports civil rights protections to address chronic, societal problems such as America saw in the 1950s and 1960s. “But I don’t think that this measures up to that same kind of problem,” he said.
House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, declined to say whether he supports or opposes the bill.
There is a push at the federal level to prohibit discrimination.
The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed the Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment and public accommodation. But its chances in the more closely divided U.S. Senate are unclear.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, who backed same sex marriage in 2013 when his son came out as gay, said: “I oppose discrimination of any kind, that includes for the LGBTQ community. I want to try to move something forward.”
Portman, however, expressed reservations about the Equality Act.
“I’m concerned about the Equality Act, primarily because I don’t think it is balanced between religious freedom and ensuring that people are treated equally. I think the consequences on it concerning religious freedom are concerning,” Portman said on March 2.
In June 2015 in a case originating in Ohio, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the right for same-sex couples to marry is constitutionally guaranteed.
In June 2020 the court ruled 6-3 that existing federal civil rights laws protect against job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
“That’s a big change but there still is a need to codify that and be sure that that continues to be the law of the land. So, I would be supportive of that,” Portman said of the most recent ruling.
Other Ohio lawmakers are taking a different approach.
State Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum, recently issued a 10-point plan for how she wants to protect children from sex education, sexual content on the Internet, and “politicized ideas about sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Under Powell’s plan, transgender people would not be allowed to use bathrooms or locker rooms that don’t match their sex assigned at birth. Powell wants parents to be able to get their children the counseling they see fits, but wants to prohibit parents from allowing their kids to receive transgender medical treatments such as hormone therapies or surgeries.
And Powell maintains that teachers, doctors or counselors should be required to give parents information about their child’s sexual activity or gender identity.
Eliana Turan, a transgender woman who is development director for the LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland, said such policies are based on fear and misinformation about transgender people.
“Let’s start pushing back on the big lie with the big truth. That’s how we get around this,” Turan said.