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Ohio leaders aim to capitalize on criticism of Indiana religious freedom law

Ohio leaders aim to capitalize on criticism of Indiana religious freedom law

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Officials in Ohio are aiming to capitalize on backlash against a religious-objections law in neighboring Indiana that critics say could permit discrimination against gays and lesbians.

In Dayton, officials are working to attract companies and individuals looking to leave Indiana because they oppose the new law, touting the southwestern Ohio city’s recognition for diversity and inclusiveness, the Dayton Daily News reported.

On Wednesday, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley joined U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and city officials from Canton and Columbus to urge Indiana businesses to set up shop in Ohio.

The Indiana law uses religion as a crutch to discriminate, Brown said.

“No one would tolerate a business in this country today refusing to sell to somebody because they’re black,” said Brown, a Democrat. “We should not allow a business to refuse to sell to someone because they’re gay, pure and simple.”

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The Indiana law prohibits state laws that “substantially burden” a person’s ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. The law doesn’t mention gays and lesbians, but opponents say it’s designed to protect businesses and individuals who don’t want to serve them.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has asked lawmakers to send him a bill clarifying the intent of the law by the end of the week.

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Similar legislation was introduced in the Ohio House last year, but lawmakers withdrew the proposal, citing concern over the bill’s unintended consequences.

Whaley said city staff will work to identify Indiana companies that fit Dayton’s industrial and workforce strengths and that might be prepared to move.

“It’s an opportunity for us to say, ‘Here is a welcoming community 45 minutes from your state line,” she said.

Other Ohio cities are also promoting their gay-friendly reputations. Cleveland hopes to build its reputation as a gay-friendly city after hosting the 2014 Gay Games in August, while Columbus officials have long touted Ohio’s capital city as a welcoming place for the LGBT community.

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Columbus and a number of other Ohio cities also have ordinances that prohibit sexual-orientation discrimination, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

Canton Mayor William Healy said diversity is helping his city grow.

“If there’s any companies out there looking for a great place to be welcomed, call me,” he said Wednesday. “I’ll take care of you.”

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