Ohio House Passes LGBT Non-Discrimination Bill

The Ohio House of Representatives, preparing to take up consideration of H.B. 176, the Equal Housing and Employment Act.

The Ohio House of Representatives, preparing to take up consideration of H.B. 176, the Equal Housing and Employment Act.

No one could have said it better today in the Ohio House of Representatives than Republican Representative Jeff Wagner, when — during the House debate over H.B. 176, the Equal Housing and Employment Act — he told his colleagues, “When speaking against a bill like this, it’s easy to come across the wrong way.”

Wagner then did his best to prove his point, talking about the “sexual revolution,” how increased numbers of homosexuals have led to increased incident of sexually transmitted diseases and the dangers inherent in living in a world in which homosexuality is accepted.  He told his colleagues, “You can live with whoever you want, but don’t use the state government to force acceptance.”

Fortunately for the vast majority of Ohioans, many of whom believe that Ohio law already prevents someone from being fired solely because they’re gay, the Ohio House of Representatives today took a different path and supported equality by passing the EHEA on a 56-39 vote.  No Democrats voted against the bill, and five* Republicans — Reps. Blair, Dolan, Hite, Lehner and McGregor — voted for the bill.  Democratic Rep. Lorraine Fende did not vote on the bill.

Rep. Stewart

Rep. Stewart

The EHEA would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations in Ohio, and its passage in the House marks the first time a pro-LGBT bill passed either chamber of the Ohio Statehouse.

Sponsors Rep. Dan Stewart (D) and Rep. Ross McGregor (R) both spoke in favor of the bill’s passage, with Stewart talking about the changes in our past leading toward more enlightened positions on equality — including a mention of P.M. Gordon Brown’s apology of last week — and urging that “Injustice to one is injustice to all.”

Rep. McGregor

Rep. McGregor

McGregor spoke immediately after Wagner’s “sexual revolution” speech and was quite pointed in as nice a way as possible in his remarks, saying that he had decided that “I’m going to use my time [here] to do the right thing.”  He went on to talk, in as plain of terms as I’ve heard, about how this is just such a bill and how he supports the bill as a businessman and a citizen.  He also spoke directly to his Republican colleagues, noting “the number of your staff who have stuck their head in, and told me this is the right thing to do.”

On a more upsetting note, McGregor talked about some of the intemperate responses he’s received, from letters attacking him as a “traitor” to one particularly chilling letter asking “Is there a provision for me to pound these queer people into next week?”

In Ohio.  In 2009.

Fortunately, the majority of the members of the Ohio House are slightly more enlightened on the issue.

Rep. Garrison

Rep. Garrison

Among those who spoke out in favor of the bill, two were particularly noteworthy.  The one was Rep. Jennifer Garrison, who is running for Secretary of State and won her House seat in part in 2004 by running to the right of her Republican opponent on the Defense of Marriage Act.  Garrison spoke out in favor of EHEA primarily on its economic benefits and, at the end of the session added her name on as a co-sponsor of the legislation.  It’s just one small step, but among those gathered in the gallery to watch the proceedings, it was a noteworthy one.

The other somewhat surprising support came from Rep. Peggy Lehner, a Republican from Kettering, who began her speech by noting that she is vigorously pro-life.  She transitioned from discussing her pro-life views into talking about her support for EHEA by saying that “[a]n unalienable right is one which we have no right to deny. . . . What we are doing today is simply reaffirming” that.  She made a case for the fact that like her views on life, Ohioans should not be limited by others in their liberty or attempts at the pursuit of happiness.  And discrimination, she argued limited that liberty and the pursuit of that happiness.

Former Equality Ohio Education Fund Board Chair Tom Grote with his daughter Amoret and EHEA sponsor Rep. Stewart.

Former Equality Ohio Education Fund Board Chair Tom Grote after the vote with his daughter Amoret and EHEA sponsor Rep. Stewart.

Other members speaking in support included Reps. Tyrone Yates and John Carney, both Democrats.  Other members speaking against were Republican Reps. Matt Huffman and Lynn Wachtman, who said, “Shame on you for bringing this bill up. . . . This bill punishes people who disagree with you.”

The only stumbling block in the Democratic-led House today involved some parliamentary gamesmanship that Rep. McGregor later said may have cost the bill some Republican votes.  The Ohio Chamber of Commerce has been attempting to get some amendments into the bill — from damage caps to additional procedural hurdles for plaintiffs to additional defenses for employers — that would impact more than just the sexual orientation and gender identity provisions of this bill, extending into all of the state’s civil rights provision.

Although some of the Chamber’s other amendments were added in committee, Rep. Gerald Stebelton apparently wanted a vote on the floor today regarding these other amendments (available on pages 1889-1895 in the PDF of the House Journal).  The Democrats, however, presented an amendment to the same section of the bill before Stebelton could be recognized to bring his amendment forward.  Under the House’s rules, thus, Stebelton’s amendment was declared out of order.

Rep. Lehner obliquely referred to the matter in her speech, calling the Democrats’ action “disturbing.”  Rep. Bacon also spoke on the floor more directly about the action, suggesting that debate on the Stebelton amendment, regardless of outcome, could have brought more Republicans to support the bill.  In a news conference following the bill’s passage, Rep. McGregor appeared to confirm Bacon’s suggestion, saying that the Democrats’ procedural move to block Rep Stebelton’s amendment “turned some [GOP] colleagues off” to the bill.

Next up for the bill is the Ohio Senate, which is overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans and where the Ohio Chamber of Commerce is sure to find a more “interested” audience for its views on the bill.

Equality Ohio Exec. Dir. Lynne Bowman, with sponsors Reps. Stewart and McGregor, at a news conference following the EHEA's passage.

Equality Ohio Exec. Dir. Lynne Bowman, with sponsors Reps. Stewart and McGregor, at a news conference following the EHEA's passage.

The day’s House Journal, as it relates to the vote on H.B. 176, can be found below the jump, as well as news releases from the Ohio Democratic Party and Equality Ohio.  The day’s full journal can be found here (PDF).

* = Apologies to Rep. Matt Dolan, who I had missed in my initial run through the roll call.

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Ohio House Journal, September 15, 2009
H.B. 176 Vote

The question recurring, “Shall the bill as amended pass?”

The yeas and nays were taken and resulted – yeas 56, nays 39, as follows:
Those who voted in the affirmative were: Representatives

Belcher Blair Bolon Book
Boyd Brown Carney Celeste
Chandler DeBose DeGeeter Dodd
Dolan Domenick Driehaus Dyer
Foley Garland Garrison Gerberry
Goyal Hagan Harris Harwood
Heard Hite Koziura Lehner
Letson Luckie Lundy Mallory
McGregor Moran Murray Newcomb
Okey Otterman Phillips Pillich
Pryor Sayre Schneider Skindell
Slesnick Stewart Sykes Szollosi
Ujvagi Weddington Williams B. Williams S.
Winburn Yates Yuko Budish-56.

Those who voted in the negative were: Representatives

Adams J. Adams R. Amstutz Bacon
Baker Balderson Batchelder Blessing
Bubp Burke Coley Combs
Daniels Derickson Evans Gardner
Goodwin Grossman Hackett Hall
Hottinger Huffman Jordan Maag
Mandel Martin McClain Mecklenborg
Morgan Oelslager Ruhl Sears
Snitchler Stautberg Stebelton Uecker
Wachtmann Wagner Zehringer-39.

The bill passed.

Representative Stewart moved to amend the title as follows:

Add the names: “Bolon, Dyer, Garrison, Murray, Otterman, Pillich,
Slesnick, Szollosi, Weddington.”

The motion was agreed to and the title so amended.

The title as amended was agreed to.

* * * * *

Ohio Democratic Party News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 15, 2009
Contact: Seth Bringman
614-221-6563 ext. 145

Ohio Democratic Party Praises Passage of H.B. 176

Bill Prohibits Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

COLUMBUS – Today, the Ohio Democratic Party praised the passage of H.B. 176, the Equal Housing and Employment Act, a bill to prohibit discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. All House Democrats supported the bill. It is the first bill that was passed in the Statehouse when legislators returned to session today and the first bill in our state’s history that would expand rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Ohioans.

“With today’s historic vote, we are one step closer to ensuring that Ohioans will not be fired or kicked out of their homes just because of who they are or who they love,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern. “The fact that all House Democrats supported H.B. 176 is a testament to our Party’s commitment to equality for all Ohioans. I congratulate Equality Ohio and their coalition partners, the Human Rights Campaign and Stonewall Democrats, as well as Representative Dan Stewart, House Leadership and all who worked so diligently to make passage of this bill possible. We urge Senate President Bill Harris to move it through committee and to a vote on the Senate floor.”

The LGBT Caucus of the Ohio Democratic Party joined LGBT groups in working to pass this bill. The Ohio Democratic Party is the only State Party in the country with a full-time staff member dedicated to outreach to the LGBT community.
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* * * * *

Equality Ohio News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | September 15, 2009

Anti-Discrimination Law Passes Ohio House of Representatives

History is made in Ohio

For Immediate Release: September 15, 2009
Contact: Lynne Bowman 614-563-5274

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Today, with a vote of 56 to 39, the Ohio House of Representatives passed House Bill 176, the Equal Housing and Employment Act. The House vote marks the first time in Ohio’s history that a vote on the floor of either chamber has occurred on legislation protecting people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity in Ohio.

“With the passage of the Equal Housing and Employment Act, today the members of the House sent a clear message,” said Lynne Bowman, Executive Director of Equality Ohio, the state’s advocacy organization for LGBT issues. “Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity will not be tolerated in Ohio, regardless of where a person lives, works or plays.”

House Bill 176 was introduced in early May of 2009 with 27 co-sponsors, including primary sponsors Rep. Dan Stewart (D, Columbus) and Rep. Ross McGregor (R, Springfield) and passed out of the State Government committee in June on an 8/5 vote. It has the support of more than 150 faith groups, local governments, and community organizations across Ohio. The Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the NFIB and the Ohio Chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management have all taken a neutral position on the bill.

“I am pleased to stand with my 55 colleagues in the House who voted yes on HB176 today,” said Representative Stewart. “We worked together to craft a bill that protects more Ohioans and is good for business. The bipartisan support it has achieved to date should make one thing clear: equality in housing, employment and public accommodations is not a partisan issue in Ohio.”

Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia, 11 of Ohio’s 13 public four-year universities, 17 Ohio cities, over 90% of Fortune 500 companies, the Ohio Senate and the Ohio House of Representatives all offer similar protections. Governor Strickland has indicated support for the legislation. The bill now heads to the Senate.

“Now that House Bill 176 has passed the House, we look forward to the opportunity for full hearings in the Senate,” said Representative McGregor. “The Senate has indicated that they are focusing on issues that will stimulate the economy in Ohio. We believe they will find that House Bill 176 does just that by telling business owners and the employees they are trying recruit, that Ohio is a place that welcomes everyone.”

“This success was made possible because of the conviction of legislators who believe this is the right thing to do and because of activists from across Ohio who work to make our state a place where everyone can feel at home. We are now one step closer because of each of them,” commented Bowman.

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About the Author

Chris Geidner is the award-winning senior political & legal reporter at BuzzFeed and has written for Metro Weekly, The Atlantic Online, The American Prospect, Advocate.com, Salon and other publications, as well as at his blog, Law Dork. He has appeared regularly on television commenting on current affairs, including MSNBC, PBS, HLN & Current. Prior to moving to D.C. in 2009, he served as an attorney on the senior staff at the Ohio Attorney General's Office and had earlier worked for a leading Columbus law firm. An extended biography can be found here, and you can follow him on Twitter.