Even though it is legal for same sex couples to be married in the United States, there are 28 states that have no laws to protect LGBTQ+ citizens from being discriminated based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Ohio is one of those states, but it isn’t from lack of effort. The struggle to get a law passed protecting the Ohio LGBT community started years before United States Supreme Court ruled on marriage equality.
In many of the seven attempts to pass this legislation, the bill either never make it past one hearing in Ohio House or Senate or had no hearing whatsoever. Here is a brief timeline of the eleven year fight to pass a law, started in 2008 and dubbed the Ohio Fairness Act:
Timeline: Anti-Discrimination Legislation (from radio.wosu.org)
March 2008: State Rep. Dan Stewart (D-Columbus) introduces HB502 in the 127th General Assembly which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation which, according to an analysis of the bill, was described as “heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, asexuality or transgenderism, whether actual or perceived.”
May 2009: Stewart introduces the legislation again as HB176, this time with Republican co-sponsor state Rep. Ross McGregor (R-Springfield). The bill moves through committee and passes the Ohio House, with a Democrat majority, by a vote of 56-38. It then moves to the Republican-controlled Senate where it never receives a hearing.
September 2011: Stewart leaves the House because of term limits, but Rep. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) picks up the bill and introduces HB335 with McGregor as a co-sponsor again. This time Democrats in the Senate, state Sens. Charleta Tavares (D-Columbus) and Michael Skindell (D-Lakewood) draft a companion piece, SB231. Those bills only receive one hearing each.
May 2013: Antonio and McGregor sponsor HB163 in the House and the bill only gets one hearing. The Senate version finds a Republican sponsor in state Sen. Frank LaRose (R-Copley) with Skindell co-sponsoring. SB125 does not have any hearings in a Senate committee.
November 2015: McGregor was term limited out of the House leaving Antonio to sponsor HB389 with Rep. Denise Driehaus (D-Cincinnati). As with any other version of the bill introduced after 2009, the legislation only has one hearing.
March 2017: Antonio sponsors HB160, the last opportunity for the representative serving her last House term. The bill has had one hearing but Antonio, along with other advocates, remain hopeful about the bill’s chances with the addition of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce as a proponent.
February 2019: Antonio introduces SB11 as a new member of the Ohio Senate. The bill is co-sponsored by state Sen. Michael Rulli (R-Salem) and is once again backed by the business community.
In its most current incarnation, Senator Nickie Antonio, a Democrat representing Lakewood, introduced the bill as Senate Bill 11 in February 2019 while the Ohio Fairness Act was also introduced in the Ohio House in October 2019 as House Bill 369.
SB 11, which was introduced in the Senate Judiciary Committee, received three hearings, but did not make it out of the committee because of the lack of support among the Republicans committee members. HB 369 only received one hearing in November. Despite this, Antonio remains optimistic. She stated:
This is the first time the bill has ever been heard in the Senate … Ever. Because it was always introduced in the House and then died there. The one time the House was under Democratic leadership, it passed out of the House but then it languished in the Senate. It wasn’t even assigned a committee. – Cleveland.com
One of the reasons the bill has stalled is the significant majority the Republicans have in the Ohio Legislative Branch. Another reason is opposition from religious groups like Citizens for Community Values. A major concern for the organization is thwarting the Ohio Fairness Act. Aaron Baer, a representative for the Citizens for Community Values, explained if people knew the details in the bill and the repercussions for the religious community, support for these bills would decline.