Earlier this week, the sponsors of a religious freedom bill under consideration in the Ohio Statehouse withdrew it, fearing that language similar to that in a bill recently vetoed by Arizona’s governor could have allowed discrimination against gay people if the bill were adopted. In an interview with Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles, Chris Long of the Ohio Christian Alliance, explains why he backs the bill, and why he thinks the laws currently on the books are not enough to protect Ohioans exercising their religious beliefs.
LONG: "It’s a bill that actually addresses a real concern for Ohioans and people of faith that may become targets of a lawsuit if they object to homosexual marriage in their business. In this instance: If you're a baker and you're asked to provide baking services, a cake, for a homosexual or lesbian wedding, it’s not just servicing by baking a cake and sending it over the counter. Bakers actually have to go to the reception hall, many times erect the cake and actually serve it...They're being asked to participate in the service. The same thing with a photographer. They are not doing it remotely. A photographer is very intimately involved with the ceremony. And so these are individuals that would be protected with this legislation from being targets of lawsuits either by individuals or institutions or entities, such as even the state of Ohio -- where in other states have enjoined lawsuits filed by the American -- ACLU against individuals who object to participating in this way."
INGLES: "Have there been any of these kind of lawsuits in Ohio?
LONG: "Not to my knowledge as of yet. There may have been, it may have not gone public as of yet. But we do know that there has been probing. For instance, in churches have been asked by homosexual individuals to marry them. And these churches sense that they're becoming a target of a future lawsuit. So the threat is real...There are dozens and dozens of cases across the country. It’s only a matter of time before these lawsuits start in Ohio."
INGLES: "Gay marriage is against the law in Ohio. And in fact, anything that approximates gay marriage is against the law in Ohio. So how could someone be sued for not facilitating a gay wedding, if gay weddings in Ohio can’t exist under the law anyway?"
LONG: "Well, our state constitution on marriage does describe marriage as between one man and one woman. Albeit in Virginia, that state’s constitution was struck down. Texas, Kentucky, across the country you see federal judges beginning to take the marching orders, really, of the Eric Holder Justice Department and to start striking down DOMAs or constitutional amendments that define marriage as between one man and one woman that do not include homosexuality. So it’s only a matter of time that a federal judge may -- we may wake up one morning and see that our constitutional law was deemed unconstitutional. That’s why people of faith need to find a legal protection, and this law would have afforded us that."
The Ohio legislature has shelved the bill, meaning it is dead -- at least for now. But another bill similar to it could come back in the future.
The bill has more than two dozen lawmakers listed as cosponsors. Long is hoping some of them will bring the bill back. But if that happens, the leader of a group that wants to put a repeal of the gay marriage ban on the statewide ballot this fall is promising a fight.
Ian James with FreedomOhio says his group will be working with others to make sure the religious freedom bill doesn’t come back again.
"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, it's dangerous. And it needs to be killed."
There are no plans, at this point, to bring the bill back before the end of the year.