A proposed Ohio law that would ban discrimination for LGBTQ people is seeing a new wave of support. Business groups say sexual orientation and gender identification should be considered protected classes in Ohio.
A coalition of hundreds of businesses is calling on lawmakers to pass the bill. They’re backed by chambers of commerce around the state.
Holly Gross with the Columbus Chamber says the bill would protect civil rights and bring economic benefits, making Ohio more competitive at attracting businesses who see these laws as forward thinking.
“It’s also a tool for businesses large and small at attracting and retaining the best and brightest that’s what we heard over and over again businesses have consistently told us that having a diverse and inclusive workforce has benefits to them it helps their bottom line," Gross said.
Sandy Anderson with Equality Ohio says these laws are imperative for LGBTQ people. She uses the example of going to Washington in 2014 to marry her wife then returning to Ohio.
“What people find surprising in many states, including Ohio, is that in Ohio we still don’t have legal protections for LGBTQ citizens in housing, employment and public accommodations," Anderson said. She says people who have married, posted social media information and taken other steps can "come back to their home state and be fired from their job, be denied housing, be denied service in a restaurant or store, bakery what have you. And that’s just not right,."
Aaron Baer is with Citizens for Community Values. His conservative group is against the bill, calling itsweeping legislation that would create many unintended consequences. One of Baer’s main arguments is that Ohio doesn’t have a major problem with discrimination against sexual orientation or gender identity.
“The question is do we need a government policy, an overreaching government policy, that has strict penalties that’s vague in its nature to deal with this? And I would say the answer is no.
"I think really what shows that we don’t have a problem with discrimination is the fact that we have so many businesses stepping up and saying they don’t discriminate in their hiring practices. We have the Columbus Chamber here, we have the Ohio Chamber that has endorsed this bill. These are the most powerful institutions in our state that are stepping forward and saying we don’t discriminate," Baer said.
“Of course there is a problem to be solved . ... Every day, certainly every week, Equality Ohio staff receive phone calls from people all around the state who are suffering discrimination because they are LGBTQ," Anderson said.
“From a talent, attraction and retention standpoint, a business does have trouble attracting LBGTQ individuals, retaining and recruiting them if they can have a job but they may be in danger of losing their home or in danger of being discriminated in public accommodations. Businesses want employees to be able to live their best lives, but that’s just not possible without these protections in place," Gross said.
Baer fears that business owners could be denied freedom of religion and speech if their decisions affected a customer or employee in a way that ran counter to the law.
“To tell those few people that you’re going to lose your job if you speak out on these issues, if you share your opinion that’s the opposite of pluralism that’s the opposite of us living together that’s saying if you disagree you’re going to be punished and we see those things happening," Baer said.
“I would say laws that were intended to shield religious liberties are now being used as a sword against anti-discrimination policies," Gross said.
The bill has had two hearings in the House, which included testimony from several business groups. While it does seem to be picking up more support it’s unlikely the bill will see a committee vote before the House leaves for summer break.