Conservative ad campaign targets Utah anti-discrimination bill

Dec 22 2013 - 11:16pm

SALT LAKE CITY -- Legislation expected to resurface at the 2014 Utah Legislature that imposes a statewide ban on discrimination based on sexual identity or orientation has already stirred opposition.

More than a dozen conservative organizations calling themselves the First Freedoms Coalition have announced plans to mount a multimedia campaign against the measure.

State Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, is having a new bill drafted for the Legislature's 2014 session that's aimed at prohibiting discrimination based on sexual identity or orientation in housing and employment.

"Even though nondiscrimination laws sound reasonable, they're not," Laura Bunker, president of United Families International, told the Deseret News (http://bit.ly/1cH463m ). "They give special rights to some at the expense of others, and they'll harm our first freedoms."

But Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, said the majority of Utahns support nondiscrimination ordinances.

"To them, 'fair to all' means allowing all Utahns, regardless of religion, race, gender, age, sexual orientation or gender identity, to support themselves and their families and to live in safe housing," she said.

In 2009, Salt Lake City became the first municipality in Utah to pass an ordinance making it illegal to fire or evict someone for being gay or transgender, and 15 other cities and counties have followed suit. But for the past five years, statewide efforts, generally led by Democrats, have failed in the state's Republican-controlled Legislature.

A Senate committee narrowly gave Urquhart's measure a favorable recommendation earlier this year, but it died on the Senate floor without a vote. The bill did not apply to small businesses, religious organizations or businesses owned by religious organizations.

Bunker described the First Freedoms Coalition as a grassroots organization that also includes the Sutherland Institute and Utah Eagle Forum. It is not registered as a political action or political issues committee.

It's a loose coalition and money for the ad campaign comes from private individuals who care about the issue, said Bill Duncan, a lawyer with Utah's Marriage Law Foundation.

The coalition's TV ads were scheduled to hit the airwaves beginning Sunday.

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