Ohio lawmakers have introduced a bill that would allow businesses to deny providing services for same-sex weddings, which gay rights advocates say is worse than controversial Indiana legislation that drew criticism from across the country.
Under House Bill 296, business owners and employees would not have to provide goods or services for engagement parties, weddings or other activities related to same-sex marriages. The brief, five-paragraph long bill states that not providing services is not equal to discrimination.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ron Young, a Leroy Township Republican, said the bill is intended to let people who sincerely feel that participating in a same-sex ceremony hurts their conscience to opt out.
“[Businesses] hate to turn down revenue and most people wouldn’t have opposition to participating in same-sex weddings, but I think if people choose, based upon religious or conscientious objections, they should have the opportunity to not participate,” Young said, adding that he doesn’t think it would be a popular option.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. Lisa Wurm of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio said House Bill 296 is a step backward for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Ohioans who now can marry their partners but are not protected by state anti-discrimination laws.
Wurm said freedom of religion is already protected by the U.S. Constitution, making further legislation unnecessary.
“The ACLU knows a thing or two about freedom of religion,” Wurm said. “If this was an issue, we would certainly not be afraid to side with Rep. Young and the co-sponsors of the bill. But the freedom of religion doesn’t give any of us the right to harm others, which is what this legislation would do.”
Wurm said Young’s bill is more targeted toward gay people than Indiana’s Religious Freedom Act, which caused national uproar earlier this year after critics said it would allow discrimination. Indiana lawmakers rushed to amend the bill to add protections for LGBT people after several companies threatened to move their businesses out of the state.
Although there are no federal or state protections for sexual orientation in Ohio, about two dozen Ohio cities have passed anti-discrimination ordinances under which violators can be fined.
Young said that’s wrong, and that forcing vendors to provide services is a form of discrimination.
“Carving out this space is reasonable,” Young said. “It doesn’t hurt the same sex couple that wants to marry. They can certainly find a service elsewhere.”