Utah bill would ban discrimination against gays

Thursday , March 07, 2013 - 4:45 PM

Michelle L. Price

SALT LAKE CITY — For the fifth year in a row, a bill has been introduced at the Utah legislature proposing a statewide law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual identity or orientation.

In 2009, Salt Lake City became the first municipality to pass an ordinance making it illegal to fire or evict someone for being gay or transgender, and 14 other Utah cities and counties have followed suit. But for the past five years, statewide efforts have failed in the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature.

This year’s effort comes from Sen. Stephen Urquhart, a St. George Republican who says his bill deals with “one of the big issues of our time.”A Senate committee is scheduled to consider Urquhart’s bill Thursday afternoon.

The legislation would not apply to religious organizations, which are already exempt from the statewide law banning discrimination based on religion, national origin, sex or race.

The bill also extends that exemption to any organization advocating a viewpoint that would be affected by employing someone falling into a protected category.

At least 16 states and Washington, D.C., prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Five other states have laws limited just to sexual orientation, according to Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group.

Urquhart said he’s supported the idea for several years but wasn’t sure if it would play well in his conservative district in southern Utah. Since announcing the legislation, Urquhart said he’s received both opposition and support.

Urquhart also said he’s received support from fellow members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but he has not specifically spoken with church leaders to see if they support the legislation.

In 2009, a senior LDS spokesman made a rare public appearance before Salt Lake City lawmakers to support regulations protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination in housing and employment.

Messages left with the church were not immediately returned Thursday.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser said he thinks there will be a time when the issue will need to be addressed at a statewide level, but for now, he feels that the issue is best left to local communities.

Gov. Gary Herbert agreed, saying that seems to be “the best way to do it.”

“If somebody can show me something that’s better than that, I’m willing to listen and learn and take into consideration that, maybe Sen. Urquhart’s bill will do that,” he said Wednesday.

Herbert said he’s not sure he’d support a statewide effort because he’s concerned it could violate the freedom of religious people who say they are opposed to the lifestyle.

But the governor said he is opposed to any discrimination based on sexual orientation.

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