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Combine Pastor Protection and Ohio Fairness acts

By MARC KOVAC Capital Bureau Published: June 19, 2017 4:00 AM

COLUMBUS -- I don't know very many people who think discrimination is a good thing.

I also don't know very many who think people of faith should be forced to allow those with opposing viewpoints to set up shop in others' places of worship.

Separate bills on those two issues hanging from separate sides of the political divide are under consideration at the Ohio Statehouse.

They may provide an opportunity for lawmakers with opposing positions on certain social/cultural issues to come together in a way that many in electorate seem to want.

On the one side is HB 36, the Pastor Protection Act, which would protect pastors and churches from lawsuits and prosecution for refusing to officiate or play host same-sex marriage ceremonies.

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On the other is HB 160, the Ohio Fairness Act, which would ban housing, employment and other discrimination based on residents' sexual orientation or gender identity, similar to protections already in place for age, race and religious affiliation.

HB 36 appeared to be on a fast track earlier this year, with whispers of a pending floor vote, but it has since sputtered to a stop.

HB 160 is comparable to bills that have been introduced repeatedly in recent general assemblies but not supported by Republican majorities in the Ohio House and Senate.

The primary sponsors of the measures, Rep. Nino Vitale (R-Urbana) for the Pastor Protection Act and Rep. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) for the Ohio Fairness Act, hold very different positions on such issues.

Vitale is among the most conservative members of the Ohio House; Antonio is an openly gay member of that same chamber.

Here's a crazy idea: What would happen if the two of them got together and hammered out a single bill -- call it the Ohio Fairness and Pastor Protection Act -- that included provisions from both of their proposals?

Think about it, one bill that prohibits employment, housing and other discrimination based on one's sexual orientation or gender identity while specifically spelling out protections for pastors and communities of faith that choose not to play host to ceremonies that run counter to their spiritual beliefs.

Critics on both sides will point out the shortcomings of such an approach. I'm sure there are many.

I'm not advocating for either bill, just pointing out that there appears to be common ground here on a couple of controversial issues.

Because, again, I have talked to few people who think discrimination is OK or who want to force churches to support other lifestyles.

Given our current political climate, it would be a refreshing approach to policy-making by our elected officials.

It would show that even in an increasingly polarized environment, with strongly held opinions on hot button issues, lawmakers can still find a way to work together for the greater good.

What's that old cliche about politics -- the art of the possible?

Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at mkovac@recordpub.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.


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