After U.S. Supreme Court decision, Ohio Fairness Act still awaiting hearings

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

A piece of Ohio House legislation on sexual orientation discrimination is sitting idle in a committee, even after the nation’s highest court said LGBTQ+ people can’t be fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that LGBTQ individuals are protected from job discrimination by the Civil Rights Law of 1964, negating laws in more than half of the nation’s states that legally allowed workers to be fired based on their sexual orientation. 

In Ohio, attempts to put sexual orientation and gender identity protections into state law have been left without consideration by both houses of the General Assembly for more than a decade.

Currently, the bipartisan-sponsored House Bill 369, called the Ohio Fairness Act, sits in the Civil Justice Committee, having had its last hearing in February

“We’ve made several requests for additional hearings,” said State Rep. Mike Skindell, D-Lakewood, cosponsor of the bill with Rep. Brett Hudson Hillyer, R-Uhrichsville. “We also continue to advocate to bring it up on the floor for a vote.” 

The Senate version of the bill, which also has bipartisan support, hasn’t seen a hearing since May of 2019.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision only covered one aspect of the protections the Ohio Fairness Act seeks to legalize. While employment has always been a part of the legislation, the law also mentions discrimination in areas such as health insurance and housing.

“In Ohio, most people believe we can not discriminate in these areas, and they’re surprised to find out that this can occur,” Skindell said. “(With this bill) we would make Ohio a welcoming state, one that respects that dignity.”

After the legislature was shut down by coronavirus closures, and after the Civil Justice committee returned with bills related to the pandemic, the Ohio Fairness Act “was put on the back burner,” Skindell told the Capital Journal.

Skindell said he believes they would have enough votes to receive House passage, but the bill has yet to receive proponent testimony hearings or a vote in committee.