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Would a law banning LGBT discrimination be good for Ohio business?
By Bennett Leckrone
(April 18, 2018) — Advocates of LGBT rights in Ohio say a non-discrimination law would benefit business in Ohio — but opponents say such rights could hinder free speech and religious freedom.
Both supporters and opponents of a bill that would create LGBT protections discussed anti-discrimination laws and their implications at a Columbus Metropolitan Club event Wednesday afternoon.
House Bill 160, also called the Ohio Fairness Act, would make it illegal to discriminate against individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodation. It was introduced by Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, who has seen similar efforts fall short in previous legislative sessions.
The bill has widespread support from Ohio businesses. A coalition of more than 300 businesses, called Ohio Business Competes, is supporting the bill, as well has the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus chambers of commerce, the latter’s spokeswoman Holly Gross said.
“They view it as a policy that’s crucial to make hiring more competitive,” Gross said of businesses. “It helps us to be competitive against states that have already enacted these policies.”
Some say the lack of opposition to the bill is a result of fear. Aaron Baer, the president of the conservative Citizens for Community Values, which opposed gay marriage, said businesses would be hurt if they opposed the bill.
“There’s a lot of businesses that oppose this, but it’s not in their interest to speak out against this,” Baer said.
Baer said anti-discrimination laws should only apply to groups that face “systematic discrimination,” and said discrimination against LGBT individuals in Ohio is not common, citing the amount of support for the bill as evidence.
“The LGBT community is celebrated in Ohio,” he said. “You really don’t see a culture where these things are happening.”
Sandra Anderson, the board chair of the Equality Ohio Educational Fund, said that is simply untrue. Equality Ohio receives calls about discrimination on a daily basis, Anderson said, and the Ohio Civil Rights Commission is powerless to investigate such claims because there is no law protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination.
Anderson said she married her wife in Seattle in 2014 — around a year before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage should be legal nationwide. When the couple returned to Ohio, their marriage wasn’t recognized.
While same-sex marriage has since become legal across the nation, people can still be fired or denied housing because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in Ohio, Anderson said.
“What people find surprising is that … in Ohio, we still don’t have protections for LGBT citizens,” Anderson said.
Baer also expressed concerns that the law would hinder free speech and the ability of people who oppose LGBT individuals from expressing their opinion.
“To tell those people that you’re going to lose your job if you speak out on these issues … that’s the opposite of pluralism,” he said.
The bill would still protect all of the religious exemptions in Ohio law, Anderson said.
Gross said the bill could affect Ohio’s economic development and ability to attract businesses such as Amazon. One campaign, “No Gay, No Way!” is urging Amazon to avoid choosing a state for its second headquarters that doesn’t protect LGBT individuals from discrimination. A total of 28 states lack LGBT anti-discrimination laws.
Similar bills to the Ohio Fairness Act have been introduced multiple times over the past 10 years. Antonio’s bill had a hearing on January 31 — the first since at least 2009.