This last week, Ohio saw the Religious Right get handed a major defeat on it’s “Religious Freedom” bill in Ohio as the prime sponsors of HB376, Cleveland Democratic State Rep. Bill Patmon and Oxford Republican Tim Derickson withdrew their bill. Until this week, the two and their 44 co-sponsors were on a fast track to winning an incredible anti-LGBT battle but something happened along the way.
Their first major speed bump on their journey to gay discrimination was the national attention Arizona had gained for its SB1062 (which mirrored the Ohio bill). So intense was the scrutiny of that legislative model of intolerance, that American Express, Apple, American Airlines, the NFL, Southwest Airlines, Chambers of Commerce and many others across the Grand Canyon State publicly and vociferously protested. Then came the last two GOP nominees for President, John McCain of Arizona and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts or California (depending upon which house he is living at the time). These two GOP leaders urged Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to veto the bill (which she did days later).
Back in Ohio, FreedomOhio who has built a robust grassroots statewide campaign for marriage equality had been monitoring Arizona and the Ohio bills. The organization’s Executive Committee realizing the dangerous nature of the bill officially voted to oppose the bill and engage its 62,000+ members to stop the destructive and discriminatory piece of legislation. In three days time, FreedomOhio engaged its members and others to launch 20,000 phone calls to legislators. As those calls were taking place, FreedomOhio also quickly identified opinion leaders and others who could contact co-sponsors of the bill to create tension.
FreedomOhio reasoned that our state already has an unconstitutional marriage ban in place, depriving loving same-sex couple of the right to be legally married. The last thing we need in Ohio, they said, was to further marginalize and attack LGBT Ohioans.
As the Executive Director of FreedomOhio, Ian James reached out to the Democratic prime sponsor (Patmon) via a mutual friend. Within hours, James and Patmon were speaking via phone. Patmon contended that his bill was only to “protect Jewish men who wished to wear a yamahka or Christians who wished to wear a cross, or have their Bible on their desk.” James told him those rights are already protected, and that his bill would open a Pandora’s box of woes upon the state, many unintended especially as a law would mean fundamentalists Christians and Fundamentalist Non-Christians would have the right to claim “sincere religious belief” about, well, virtually anything.
Patmon said he would consider what was being said and by the next day, he called James back to indicate the Bill’s demise. When the two spoke Patmon indicated that his intent was to allow people of faith to be expressed, but that his bill seemingly went beyond such intent. When James asked how he came up with the language he indicated that he and Rep. Derickson had spoken about it, then gave their intent to the Legislative Service Commission (LSC).
When James confronted him with the fact that the bill was a mirror of the Arizona Gay Discrimination Bill, Patmon blamed the LSC and explained how the system worked.
“I sent them my intent and they came back with this bill,” Patmon reportedly said. James, who worked in the Ohio House as a senior aide to Speaker Vern Riffe in the early ‘90s assured Patmon that he understood how LSC worked and that the bill was his and he could take no cover from blame in accusing LSC of the problem.
Behind the scenes, James worked with State Rep. Michael Stinziano from Columbus. “Stinz” as James calls him, was instrumental in easing the bill into its resting place in history. He and James worked to assure that the bill did not come back as a “zombie” or “walking dead” bill (as James called it) later in the session.
While Ohio’s “Gay Discrimination Bill” or “Gay Jim Crow” is dead, Ohio Christian Alliance, Citizens for Community Values, Focus on the Family, American Defense Fund and other rightwing religious folks are furious about being setback by volunteers of a two year old gay rights group and their allies. They seek a resurrection of the bill in some other form because they seem determined to find some way to make sure their Christian cupcake makers, florists and photographers don’t have to participate in any way in a “gay wedding” when Ohio begins to allow gays to marry.
FreedomOhio and Stinziano have vowed to monitor Ohio’s legislation to prevent the passage of any future harmful, unnecessary anti-LGBT bills. In speaking with Ohio Public Radio this week, James said, “FreedomOhio is going to do everything possible to make certain that the other sponsors of the bill as well as the house speaker understand the serious ramifications of this dangerous bill,” James said. “There are going to be business leaders reaching out to them, there are going to be faith leaders reaching out to them. This bill is unwise, unwarranted and dangerous. “
If there is one thing we should all know, it’s that the Religious Right doesn’t take defeat well. Given their history, and the twist in their knickers this week, it’s likely only a matter of time before Ohio sees more LGBT discrimination cloaked in the guise of “religious freedom.” But when they come back, it looks like FreedomOhio is going to be ready – and spoiling for the fight.
Guest Post by FreedomOhio