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May 30, 2008

Ohio lawmaker chastised for anti-gay missive

Columbus--An Ohio legislator has been criticized by his colleagues for sending an email to the entire Ohio House linking an LGBT equality bill with collapsing families and “a host of mental and physical illnesses.”

State Rep. Jeff Wagner, R-Sycamore, called the Equal Housing and Employment Non-Discrimination Act “dangerous and misguided” in his May 18 message.

The bill, introduced in March, would prohibit discrimination by sexual orientation and gender identity in public and private employment, housing and public accommodations. Twenty other states have similar laws.

Wagner’s message was a response to 81-year-old Dean Prushing, who had e-mailed him two days earlier to say, “The Equal Housing and Employment Act is nothing more than granting special previleges (sic) to a small number of our population that Biblically are described as an abomination.”

“Please do everything within your power to defeat the so-called ‘Equal Housing and Employment Act,’ S.B. 305 and H.B. 502,” Prushing wrote. “This radical and far-reaching legislation would strip away from employers and property owners their fundamental right to make decisions based on their deeply held religious convictions and would result in suppression of all Ohioans’ freedom of religious expression.”

Wagner is not the representative for Prushing, who lives in Trenton, between Dayton and Cincinnati. That’s about 100 miles from Wagner’s District 81 in Sandusky and Seneca counties.

Wagner agreed with Prushing in his response:

“Thank you for your e mail about HB 502. You are exactly right that this is a dangerous and misguided bill.

“The bill is not really about people being denied rights to basic needs, but it is about promoting acceptance of an immoral lifestyle. As much as some people would have us to believe otherwise this country was founded on Christian principles. One of those long honored principles is the tradition of holy matrimony. One man and one woman joined together in a union that goes as far back as Adam and Eve,” Wagner continued.

“As our society has gotten further from that standard (not just homosexuality, but easy divorce, cheating on a spouse, etc) we see a continued collapse of the basic building block of society the family unit. As that traditional family erodes we see more sexually transmitted diseases, kids without parents, heartbroken people and I believe a host of mental and physical illnesses.

“I thank you for your e mail and input on this issue, rest assured I can not support a bill in any way promotes or encourages the homosexual lifestyle.”

Wagner then added, “Fellow Legislators, As we are probably all getting e mails about HB 502\ SB 305 I wanted to share my response with you. I believe that the only hope for this great country of ours is a return to the basic Judeo-Christian values that we were founded upon.”

He forwarded this to every Ohio House email address, including 99 lawmakers and all of their staffers.

Wagner’s message was quickly posted on a blog run by Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and has since circulated widely around the Internet, including a spoof on the satirical site

Now in his third term, Wagner voted for the “defense of marriage act” in 2004. As a member of the House Education Committee, he helped keep protection for LGBT students out of a 2006 anti-bullying law.

Equality Ohio director Lynne Bowman said that volunteers who visited Wagner during the group’s May 14 lobby day reported that he handed each of them anti-gay pamphlets from Focus on the Family in Colorado.

“When we live in a state where a constituent can’t even speak with their own elected official about the reality of the discrimination they have personally experienced, and be respected, how can we expect to attract new people to Ohio?” Bowman said.

“Representative Wagner’s comments are a perfect example of why there is such a need for this type of legislation in Ohio,” she added.

Twenty three House Democrats responded to Wagner in a letter signed May 23.

“It has come to our attention that you have sent an e-mail to all Members and staff with language that we believe is inappropriate and unprofessional for the civil dialogue this august body normally upholds,” the letter begins.

“We, the undersigned Democratic Members of the House, stand united against any kind of discriminatory speech. Discrimination against anyone for any reason is wrong.

“We strongly disagree with your statements,” the letter concludes.

It is signed by Minority Leader Joyce Beatty of Columbus, Ted Celeste of Grandview Heights, Chris Redfern of Catawba Island, Robert Hagan of Youngstown, Mike Foley of Cleveland, Tom Letson of Warren, Ron Gerberry of Ashtabula, Joe Koziura of Lorain, Kenny Yuko of Richmond Heights, Peter Ujvagi of Toledo, Dale Mallory of Cincinnati, Sandra Williams of Cleveland, Dan Stewart of Columbus, Barbara Boyd of Cleveland Heights, Edna Brown of Toledo, Mike Skindell of Lakewood, Steve Slesnick of Canton, Armond Budish of Beachwood, Steve Driehaus of Cincinnati, Tyrone Yates of Cincinnati, Clayton Luckie of Dayton, John Domenick of Smithfield, and Tracy Maxwell Heard of Columbus.

The letter was also sent to House Speaker Jon Husted, a Republican.

Neither Husted nor Wagner returned calls by press time.


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