"The Ohio House of Representatives has approved House Bill 176, Representative Dan Stewart's gay protections bill. The bill now heads to the Senate.
Five Republican lawmakers crossed the aisle to join all Democrats in attendance in voting in favor of the bill on a 56 to 38 vote. Five Democratic lawmakers did not attend the session.
Stewart, a Democrat from Columbus, jointly sponsored the bill with Representative Ross McGregor, a Republican from Springfield.
“This is not special rights. These are rights all Ohioans are afforded,” Stewart said of his bill, also known as the Equal Housing and Employment Act (EHEA). Stewart has introduced similar legislation in previous sessions but the bills never came up for a vote.
The proposed legislation would make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity (transgender protections) in the areas of employment, public accommodations and credit.
Dissenting Republicans said they objected to the bill on the premise it would endorse being gay.
“When you get down to the root of House Bill 176, it is not really about people being denied rights to basic needs, which is the premise the bill was sold on,” Representative Jeff Wagner said during debate on the House floor. “It is about forcing acceptance of a lifestyle that many people disagree with.”
Last year, Wagner's comments on the bill were a bit more direct. In an email written to an Ohio constituent he called the bill “dangerous” and “misguided,” and concluded with: “Rest assured I can not support a bill that in any way promotes or encourages the homosexual lifestyle.”
The bill, however, is expected to hit major turbulence in the Republican-led Senate. Senate President Bill Harris, a Republican from Ashland, has questioned whether the bill's protections are needed.
While voters approved by a large margin a constitutional amendment that bans both gay marriage and civil unions in 2004, support for gay protections appears strong in Ohio. A June Quinnipiac University poll found that a majority (57%) of voters favor gay protections, with 35% in opposition."
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