SALT LAKE CITY -- A bill to implement new anti-discrimination guidelines in the treatment of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered individuals in housing and workplace situations received a favorable recommendation Thursday from a Senate committee.
Members of the Senate Economic Development Committee voted 4-3 to forward SB 262 to the full Senate.
Sponsored by Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, the bill would affect companies with more than 15 employees and complexes with more than four housing units. It provides exemptions for religious organizations and student dorms.
Currently, 17 municipalities have anti-discrimination guidelines on the books.
Testimony showed a wide divide on the issue.
The issue is one of public relations, not policy, said Paul Mero, of the Sutherland Institute, a Utah-based public policy research organization that supports limited government, private property rights and personal responsibility.
The Legislature, by considering the bill, is being asked to make policy based on what someone thinks, Mero said.
"When you can't win on its merit, all that is left is to appeal to emotion," he said, calling the legislation a solution looking for a problem.
Dorie Burt, of Mormons Building Bridges, said it's important that all people be treated with respect and fairness in the workplace and in housing.
"I ask you to act on Jesus' teachings to do unto others as they would do unto you."
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, who is gay, said Utah has a reputation that is often used against it.
"As we put this up the flagpole to Utah and America, this is an important signal to send. We may not accept all of this -- this ordinance not only affects employment, it signals that we are diverse, we don't agree on everything, but you are welcome to do business here."
Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, asked if his personal belief that homosexuality is immoral is discriminatory. He said he has hired people from the LGBT community and does not personally discriminate, but dealing with public policy is another matter.
"I cannot advance policy that, frankly, gives societal acceptance of something I think is immoral," Reid said.
Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, voted against the bill, saying the matter should be dealt with at the community, not state, level.
Urquhart argued it makes sense to have continuity on the issue throughout the state instead of just on a local basis.