Ohio bill on religion, gay rights withdrawn

Ohio State Capital Building
Ohio State Capital (Photo/AP)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — State lawmakers in Ohio withdrew legislation Wednesday that mirrors an Arizona bill that’s come under fire for protecting those who assert their religious beliefs in refusing service to gays.

Republican state Rep. Tim Derickson and Democratic state Rep. Bill Patmon issued a joint statement citing concern over the bill’s unintended consequences.

“The intent of (our bill) was to ensure Ohioans’ religious freedom by protecting their ability to freely worship and preventing any laws from burdening the free exercise of religion,” their statement said. “However, with the controversy that is occurring in Arizona, we feel that it is in the best interest of Ohioans that there be no further consideration of this legislation.”

Debate on the bill has been indefinitely postponed, House Speaker William Batchelder’s office said.

Similar legislation was passed in Arizona. At issue is a provision protecting any individual, association or corporation from discrimination lawsuits if their actions are based on sincerely held religious beliefs. Detractors say the provision amounts to state-sanctioned discrimination, while supporters say it’s a relatively minor change to existing law.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is facing pressure from gay-rights supporters, business groups and some fellow Republicans to veto the bill.

The Ohio legislators said the bill they introduced in December wasn’t intended to promote discrimination.

“We want to ensure that no law that we pass in this chamber is misconstrued to be discriminatory in any way,” they said.

FreedomOhio, the committee behind a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize same-sex marriage in the state, praised the move.

“I’m relieved to see Rep. Patmon working to stop this destructive and discriminatory piece of legislation,” said Ian James, the group’s co-founder and executive director. “Our state already has an unconstitutional marriage ban in place, depriving loving same-sex couples of the right to be legally married — the last thing we need is to further marginalize and attack LGBT Ohioans.”

A group of 11 law professors sent to letter to Brewer on Wednesday seeking to clarify for her the disputed paragraphs in Arizona’s bill, said Charles Tassell, who represents Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values Action, which backed Ohio’s gay marriage ban.

He said his group hopes their legal explanation will also address the concerns of Derickson and Patmon.

“We hope to see a substitute bill brought back with the language now clarified,” he said.

Tassell said the legislation’s legal protections extend to many scenarios, including, say, protecting a Christian photography business from capturing images it considers pornographic.

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