It’s long past time to pass the Ohio Fairness Act

February 4, 2020 12:15 am

A LGBTQ+ rights demonstration. Photo by Susan J. Demas, Michigan Advance, States Newsroom.

Every General Assembly for many years now, the Ohio Fairness Act is introduced, and every General Assembly it fails to become law.

The Ohio Fairness Act would make sexual orientation and gender identity or expression part of the civil rights law’s “covered characteristics” for which discrimination is prohibited.

Under current law, covered characteristics include “race, color, religion, age, sex, familial status, marital status, military status, national origin, ancestry, or disability” for a current or potential employee, potential tenant or buyer of housing, and public accommodation, according to the Ohio Legislative Service Commission.

The bill holds firm on religious exemptions that are currently a part of the state’s civil rights law, its language states.

Often, those arguing in favor of continuing to allow discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community couch their argument in some sort of protection of religious liberty. That is to say, they argue that others should be forced to suffer under discrimination because their own particular religious belief rejects the concept of tolerance.

But hanging one’s hat on religious liberty to justify discrimination invites every cruel form of human oppression, bigotry, intolerance, and prejudice to do the same.

The appeal to religion as justification for discrimination is time-honored in human history and leads without fail to despicable results. For instance, as much as the abolitionist movement was motivated by religion, so too were the defenses of slavery.

The situation may seem innocent enough in modern America when we are talking about wedding cakes and flower arrangements, but the dire consequences of the unthinking “religious freedom” bromide become clear when a Christian doctor in Michigan refuses to medically treat the infant child of a lesbian couple, or when male Muslim medical students refuse to touch female patients or learn their anatomy.

Of course there are many more examples: religious schools firing women for becoming pregnant, business owners refusing to provide insurance that covers contraception, pharmacies refusing to fill prescriptions, and children being denied safe-sex education. These are situations where individuals suffer tangible grievous harm at the hands of others imposing their religious beliefs on them.

The abominable Roberts Court decision in Hobby-Lobby notwithstanding — which anthropomorphized corporations and put a businesses’ “religious freedom” above the freedom of the real human beings who work there — most court decisions have upheld the fundamental understanding that a religious “right-to-discriminate” does not trump secular law.

So in states that have laws protecting not only the LGBTQ+ community but also women, the elderly, the disabled, and indeed, the faithful, from discrimination, those laws have consistently been upheld against the ostensible rights of others to discriminate against them.

Unfortunately, with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity, Ohio is not one of those states.

In Ohio, you can be fired for your very nature. In Ohio you can be refused service, and summarily ostracized from any enterprise, anywhere, at any time, simply because of who you are and who you love. You can be denied public accommodations free to use by anyone else, and you can be kicked out of your home, with no recourse.

This isn’t about granting special rights or privileges; it’s a fundamental concept of fairness, equality, equal opportunity, and removing unfair barriers that needlessly cause pain and suffering.

This is about everyday Ohioans who want to be able to live with the same opportunities as everyone else to pursue happiness, earn a living, to be safe in our homes and communities, and to provide for our loved ones. It’s long past time to pass the Ohio Fairness Act.

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David DeWitt
David DeWitt

OCJ Editor-in-Chief and Columnist David DeWitt has been covering government, politics, and policy in Ohio since 2007, including education, health care, crime and courts, poverty, state and local government, business, labor, energy, environment, and social issues. He has worked for the National Journal, The New York Observer, The Athens NEWS, and He holds a bachelor’s degree from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and is a board member of the E.W. Scripps Society of Alumni and Friends. He can be found on Twitter @DC_DeWitt