just say no

Ohio Will Get the Gay Games. Discrimination Protection? Not So Much

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On the heels of Cleveland securing the 2014 Gay Games comes word that Ohio’s hard fought battle for anti-discrimination laws is kaput. A bill that would have made illegal workplace, housing, and social services discrimination against gays and lesbians is dead in Ohio’s Republican-controlled Senate after passing swiftly in the House. Cue the typical excuses.

Step right up, because we’ve got everything from “there will be too many lawsuits” and “it’s another burden for small businesses” to “we don’t even need these laws” as reason not to make Ohio the 22nd state with anti-discrimination laws on the books.

State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Republican from Green Township, said he can’t recall many bills assigned to the Senate Rules Committee ever getting more than one hearing or sent for a vote by the full Senate. House Bill 176 has been assigned to the Senate Rules Committee by Harris, and may remain stuck there, according to other senators..

“I have a lot of reservations,” Seitz said. “There probably have been bills that have come out of Rules but I would be hard-pressed to think of some.”

Anytime you allow another basis for people to sue for discrimination, Seitz said, the burden shifts to the employer to prove non-discrimination. “It’s not so clear-cut as proponents would have you believe that it’s all about somebody saying, ‘I’m not going to hire you because you are gay,’ ” he said. “There are all kinds of legal intricacies.”

Such legislation also could trigger creation of new affirmative action programs in the state, he said. Ohio civil rights statutes already make it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, military status, national origin, disability, age or ancestry.

Finally, Seitz questioned whether such legislation is even necessary: “Given that so many companies have voluntarily adopted these kinds of policies, there are plenty of employment opportunities for folks regardless of their sexual orientation.”

Oh, but what about religion?!

Unlike past bills, HB 176 exempts religious groups and businesses with less than 15 workers. It also incorporates exemptions built into other anti-discrimination laws, such as the “Miss Murphy” provision of the Fair Housing Act, which allows owner-occupants some choice about whom to share their homes with.