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Potential ballot initiative wants to put equal rights amendment in Ohio Constitution

Megan Henry, Ohio Capital Journal,

A new committee is trying to get an equal rights amendment enshrined in the Ohio Constitution.

Ohio Equal Rights is in the early stages of trying to create a citizen-led ballot initiative that would constitutionally protect Ohioans from discrimination based on race, color, creed or religion, pregnancy status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, genetic information, recovery status, familial status, military status, ancestry, national origin or disability.

“Ohio currently lacks nondiscrimination policies in its Constitution, relying instead on legislation from an often unreliable legislature,” Ohio Equal Rights said on their website. “Recently, the LGBTQ+ community has faced significant discriminatory legislation with no statewide laws for their protection.”

The proposed amendment Equality of Rights Under the Law would also extend equal rights protections to marriage.

Ohio’s constitution includes a ban on same-sex marriage after 61.7 percent of Ohio voters approved an amendment in 2004 that says marriage is only between one man and one woman. The United States Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in 2015.

“The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision which revoked the protections of Roe v. Wade has led many to wonder if our federal protections for same-sex/same-gender and interracial marriages will be overturned going forward,” Ohio Equal Rights said on their website. “This amendment is a necessary defensive step to ensure our rights as Ohioans are not revoked because of decisions made at the federal level.”

Ohio Equal Rights argues this amendment would make the state more attractive for businesses, too.

“There has been an increase in discriminatory legislation targeting the LGBTQ+ community, attempting to control pregnancies, and infringing on privacy and equality in general. It’s time to move from defense to offense,” Ohio Equal Rights said on their website.

Twenty-eight states already have equal rights amendments, but none are as extensive as the proposed Equality of Rights Under the Law.

Nevada’s Equality of Rights Amendment, which passed in 2022 with 58.63 percent of the vote, is the closest to Ohio’s proposed amendment. Nevada’s amendment does not mention religion, pregnancy status, genetic information, recovery status, familial status, or military status.

A 2023 Public Religion Research Institute study showed 76 percent of Ohioans are in favor of non-discrimination LGBTQ+ laws.

Anti-LGBTQ bills

There are various anti-LGBTQ bills in various spots along the path to becoming law. Ohio’s gender-affirming care ban for trans youth (House Bill 68) is the closest to becoming law, but is currently tied up in court. A Franklin County judge placed a temporary restraining order on the bill that will be in effect until the conclusion of a July hearing.

House Bill 8 would force educators to out a student’s sexuality to their parents, require public schools to inform parents about sexuality content materials ahead of time, and give them the option to request alternative instructions. The bill passed in the House over the summer and has had a few hearings in the Senate Education Committee.

House Bill 183 would ban transgender students from using the bathroom and locker room that matches up with their gender identity. The bill was recently voted out of committee but hasn’t made its way to the House floor yet and doesn’t seem like it will anytime soon.

When would this potentially be on the ballot?

It’s too late to try to get this ballot initiative on the ballot for the upcoming November election.

Ohio Equal Rights has to go through the process to get their issue on the ballot, which means getting their petition certified and collecting enough signatures.

There are two possible amendments to the constitution Ohioans could vote on this year — one would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and the other would reform Ohio’s redistricting to remove politicians from the process and replace them with a citizens commission. The deadline to collect enough signatures for those measures is July 3.

This comes after both the reproductive rights amendment and the citizen-initiative to legalize marijuana won in last year’s November election.  

Megan Henry is a reporter for the Ohio Capital Journal and has spent the past five years reporting in Ohio on various topics including education, healthcare, business and crime. She previously worked at The Columbus Dispatch, part of the USA Today Network. Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on X.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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