Monday , February 10, 2014 - 8:12 PM
VIDEO COURTESY OF BEN PALES
SALT LAKE CITY — Weber County Democratic chairman Ben Pales was near the Utah State Capitol Monday afternoon when he saw a tweet saying 13 or so protestors were blocking doors there to call attention to SB 100, a bill that proposes protecting people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“So I popped over there quick, and the protesters were blocking the door to one of the Senate Committee rooms,” Pales said. “They were standing in front of it, and the press was surrounding them, and Highway Patrol officers came up and grabbed our good friend, Stuart Reid, from Ogden.” Reid, a Republican, is a state senator representing Ogden.
Pales said the Highway Patrol officer asked Reid, a vocal opponent of SB 100, if Reid wanted to get into the Senate Committee room.
Pales said “Reid said ‘Yeah,’ so the officer told the protesters ‘There’s a senator who wants to enter this room,’ and when they didn’t move, the Highway Patrol started making arrests.”
Reid could not be reached for comment.
It just feels a little silly that they’ve called to arrest us when all we want is to not be discriminated against,” said protester Dustin Trent, a moment before troopers zipped his wrists with plastic ties. “It’s time for us to engage in civil disobedience.”
Organizer and Equality Utah volunteer Donna Weinholtz said that demonstrators are asking Herbert to issue an executive order passing the anti-discrimination measure. “This is unfortunate for everyone,” she said of the arrest, “because we were here to have SB100 heard.”
The 13 protesters were taken to Salt Lake County Jail on suspicion of disorderly conduct, Utah Highway Patrol spokesman Dwayne Baird said.
The arrests were cordial. Troopers asked the protesters if their wrist ties were cinched too tight, and at least one protester apologized for brushing an officer with his backpack.
St. George Republican Sen. Steve Urquhart is sponsoring legislation this year that bars discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation in housing and employment. The bill is now in the Rules Committee, which can be an early graveyard for bills if they do not receive enough support from legislative leaders.
Urquhart said last week his bill appears dead this year as Republican leaders at the Legislature have decided to avoid bills that could affect the state’s gay marriage case.
Senate spokesman Ric Cantrell said the bill’s current status is “not like it’s unique. There are dozens of bills that just don’t have the support to get out yet.”
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said earlier Monday he applauds the protesters’ free speech rights. If enough members of the Rules Committee vote for it, the bill could move along, he said, adding that hasn’t happened yet.
Lawmakers working on the other side of the issue, Niederhauser added, would like their colleagues to hear their proposals as well, which they say will protect religious freedoms.
Utah lawmakers don’t want to take action on any issues that could affect the pending gay marriage case before the court issues a ruling, Niederhauser said.
He has met with members of the LGBT community to hash out a plan for those community members discuss their concerns, he said, but nothing has been decided yet.
Utah’s voter-approved ban on gay marriage was overturned by a federal judge in late December. More than 1,000 gay couples rushed to wed before the U.S. Supreme Court approved Utah’s request to halt the weddings in January. State recognition of same-sex marriages is now on hold after Utah appealed the decision on the ban to a federal appeals court.
While the protesters were stationed outside the governor’s office Monday, Urquhart spoke to the group and offered to discuss the issue again in a closed door meeting Tuesday among Senate Republicans.
Herbert’s spokesman Marty Carpenter said in a statement that the governor’s office appreciates citizens voicing their opinion. He urged anyone concerned to contact legislators because the bill remains in the Utah Senate.
Laura Bunker, the president of United Families International, waited to enter the committee room as the protesters filed out. She didn’t expect to see an arrest Monday, she said, but added she didn’t think the group would achieve its goal that way.
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, praised the protesters in a statement released Monday afternoon, saying “society does best when issues are openly debated and discussed, not shoved under the rug,” adding that he understands the protesters’ frustration.
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