The U.S. House of Representatives passed its controversial Equality Act last week, and now a local city council in Ohio is looking to follow suit.
Shaker Heights City Council is considering legislation that would create a new chapter in the city code, Chapter 516, which would protect the LGBTQ community against discrimination in the areas of employment and public accommodations.
The City Council first discussed the legislation during a May 13 work session.
Shaker Heights implemented a Fair Housing Act in 1992 to prohibit discrimination based on race, color and religion. The city amended its Fair Housing Act in 2006 to include “sexual orientation and gender identity,” according to the new anti-discrimination ordinance.
Cuyahoga County, where Shaker Heights is located, already passed an ordinance in 2018 that made it illegal “to discriminate in the areas of housing, employment, and public accommodations.”
The new Shaker Heights ordinance, like the Cuyahoga County ordinance, seeks to explicitly extend protections to the areas of employment and public accommodations, although it’s unclear what, if any, additional protections the town ordinance would provide that aren’t already covered in the county ordinance.
“In Ohio, it’s still legal to fire people or deny them housing simply because they are gay,” Equality Ohio’s Statewide Civic Engagement Director Gwen Stembridge claimed, according to The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
The new ordinance states that its purpose is to provide, “within constitutional limitations, for fair and non-discriminatory employment and public accommodations throughout the City, to assure that all persons have full and equal opportunity to seek and maintain employment, and to have use and enjoyment of all public businesses for themselves and their families within the City without being discriminated against on the basis of race, color, religion, military status, national origin, disability, age, ancestry, familial status, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression, and to promote a stable, diverse, welcoming community.”
Religious institutions will be exempt from certain parts of the Chapter 516 bill when it comes to hiring employees.
“We are not trying to take away any of those religious exemptions that already exist, but if it goes beyond state and federal law that is when it becomes a problem,” Stembridge explained.
Stembridge told the Shaker Heights City Council that Ohio is one of 28 states without a statewide discrimination law covering employment, housing, and public accommodations.
The Ohio Fairness Act has not gone anywhere at the state level, according to Stembridge. The Fairness Act would make it illegal statewide for people to be discriminated against based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. Only 22 localities in Ohio include these descriptor in their anti-discrimination laws, according to equalityohio.org.
Sixty-nine percent of Ohioans are in favor of LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws, according to a 2017 Public Religion Research Institute poll.
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