A bill that would prohibit discrimination in Ohio on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity had its first hearing in front of a Senate panel Wednesday morning.

Senate Bill 11 — dubbed the Ohio Fairness Act — would update Ohio anti-discrimination laws to include employment, housing and public accommodation protections for members of the LGBTQ community. The bill has been introduced four previous times by sponsor Sen. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, gaining little traction in past Republican-dominated legislatures.

“It is a fair proposal that will simply give people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender the same freedom to work, the same freedom to live anywhere they choose, and the same full protection and participation in society just as anyone else in Ohio,” Antonio, the legislature's only openly gay member, told the Senate Judiciary committee.

Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision, which legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states, Ohioans can still be denied housing, employment or services based on sexual orientation or gender expression, without repercussions to the employer, business or landlord.

However, 21 municipalities and two counties — Cuyahoga and Summit County — have passed ordinances barring such discrimination, according to Antonio. Senate Bill 11, she said, would create blanket protections across the state, unifying these "patchwork laws" such as the one in Columbus.

“Today in our state, a same-sex couple could be married on Saturday, post their wedding photos on Sunday, and be fired from their job or evicted from their apartment on Monday based solely on who they are and who they love,” she said. “This is not compatible with the values of fairness that Ohioans hold dear.”

Additionally, Antonio said the bill would bring business and qualified employees to Ohio, stating support from the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and other statewide associations. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine extended a similar executive order in January protecting LGBTQ state employees from workplace discrimination.

“When we say the words of the Pledge of Allegiance, we say ‘with liberty and justice for all,’ not just ‘some,’” Antonio said. “With the Ohio Fairness Act, we can send a message: Ohio is open to all for business in the 21st century.”

Maggie Prosser is a fellow with the E.W. Scripps Statehouse News Bureau.

mprosser@dispatch.com

@ProsserMaggie