Opposing Bills on LGBT Issues Could Intensify Ohio’s Lame-Duck Session

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Two Ohio bills expected for consideration during the lame-duck session could set the stage for a tense battle over religious freedom in the state.

Republicans introduced in June, and later passed through the House, their “Pastor Protection Act,” which would protect religious leaders from lawsuits from members of the LGBT community.

“An ordained or licensed minister or religious society is not required to solemnize a marriage and a religious society is not required to allow any building or property of the religious society to be used to host a marriage ceremony if the marriage does not conform to the ordained or licensed minister’s or religious society’s sincerely held religious beliefs,” the bill’s summary elaborates.

The bill has been stalled since passing the House, but is expected to be pushed by Republicans during the lame-duck session, which has already resulted in the passage of the GOP’s controversial “heartbeat bill.”

Rep. Nino Vitale (R-Cleveland), sponsor of House Bill 36, noted in June that at least 20 other states have passed similar legislation in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

But Ohio’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) strongly opposed Vitale’s bill, which it believes “may open the door for discrimination against LGBTQ people under the guise of protecting religious liberty.”

“The bill includes dangerously vague language allowing ‘religious societies’ to selectively determine who can use their buildings and property for marriage ceremonies, even if these facilities are commercially open to the public. This provision would seemingly allow churches and groups associated with a particular religion to deny same-sex couples access to non-worship spaces like gazebos and halls,” the ACLU wrote in a statement, further arguing that the bill’s provisions are already “protected by the First Amendment.”

“Religious freedom and LGBT rights are not incompatible. No clergy person has been forced against their will to perform a gay marriage ceremony,” the ACLU continues. The group goes on to argue that “LGBT Ohioans are being denied housing, employment, and public accommodations because of who they are,” which is the subject of a second bill that could be considered in the coming weeks.

Rep. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) introduced the “Ohio Fairness Act” in May but it was later referred to committee. The Cincinnati Enquirer, however, reports that the bill could be brought up during the lame-duck session.

Antonio’s bill seeks to prevent employment or housing discrimination against LGBT people on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation. It does, notably, define “sexual orientation” as “actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality.”

“It’s a fair proposal that simply gives people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer the same freedom to work, the same freedom to live where they choose to live, the same full equal participation in society, just as anybody else in Ohio,” Antonio said after introducing her bill.

Ohio lawmakers have been attempting to pass both bills for some time, but, as The Enquirer notes, a lame-duck session is generally prime-time to get things done.

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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to anthony.gockowski@gmail.com

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