With the issue of same-sex marriage hovering in the halls of Capitol Hill, few bills are expected to so bluntly address the rights of LGBT people like SB 100 – Antidiscrimination Amendments from Senator Steve Urquhart (Republican – St. George).
The bill is a near word-for-word repeat of 2013′s SB 262 - Employment and Housing Antidiscrimination Amendments, which Urquhart ran last year. During the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services committee hearing last year, Urquhart said, “[I have] never been more excited or committed to a bill – I am so happy to be running this bill.”
After Salt Lake City passed its own anti-discrimination law in 2009 (which was endorsed by the LDS Church), 16 other cities and counties have put some form of anti-discrimination ordinance on the books. However, because they have only been passed by local municipalities, they do not carry the weight that a state statute would (if an employer is found guilty of firing an employee simply because they’re gay, the maximum penalty is a small fine of $500). Urquhart says if his legislation were to pass, “Utah [would have a] single, clear policy towards discrimination, employment, and housing…The basic principal behind the bill is straight forward: we should all have an opportunity to earn a living and keep a roof over our heads. Gay and transgender people are good, hardworking people with families, just like everyone else.” The legislation adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of things Utahns cannot be fired or denied housing for, joining factors like race, gender, and religion. The bill still has the same exemptions as last year’s version, such as for employers with less than 15 employees, religious businesses, and landlords with less than 4 units (such as someone who is renting out their basement).
In a 2012 survey, 43 percent of gay Utahns and 67 percent of transgender Utahns reported that they had experienced employment discrimination, meaning they had been fired or denied a position specifically because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Contrary to the claims of groups like the Sutherland Institute, who have secured out-of-state funding from unknown sources to run television ads against the proposed legislation, the bill does not create any special rights for any group. Nor does the bill say that you cannot fire gay people, says Urquhart. “[I]t just means you can’t fire a person because they are gay or because they are straight,” according to Urquhart.
During the committee hearing last year, opposition to the bill claimed it would create a special class for the LGBT community. Failed congressional candidate and conservative blogger Cherilyn Eager, who recently held a rally calling for Governor Herbert to tell county clerks to break the law by refusing to comply with District Judge Shelby’s ruling allowing same-sex marriages, claimed such legislation would wreak havoc in the business community.
Laura Bunker, Director of United Families of Utah, testified against the bill, claiming to the committee that non-discrimination laws in California, Connecticut, Iowa, and Massachusetts lead to state supreme court decisions that ultimately resulted in same-sex marriage. Senator Urquhart countered that non-discrimination laws effect only employment and housing regulations, and is completely unrelated to marriage law. Perhaps ironically, less than a year after that committee hearing a Utah judge overturned Amendment 3 and legalized same-sex marriages in Utah anyway.
Michael Weinholtz, CEO of CHG Healthcare Services which employs thousands of Utahns and boasts a ranking of #3 on Fortune Magazine’s “Best Places to Work in America” list, told the committee that large companies like his are being damaged by the lack of a non-discrimination law in Utah because they’re unable to attract the right talent from out-of-state if individuals or their partners can’t be guaranteed simple items such as housing or employment opportunities for the partner of an employee. Similar sentiments have also been expressed by large companies such as Adobe and eBay, who have had difficulty opening up new locations and creating new high-paying jobs in Utah because they cannot convince managers from locations in other states to move to Utah without employment protections in the law. The legislation has also received the endorsement of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, and other major Utah companies such as Ancestry.com, Standard Optical, and 1-800 Contacts. Two statewide polls, conducted by independent firms for the Salt Lake Tribune and Equality Utah, have shown support for the bill with the public at over 70 percent. Last month, a non-scientific online poll conducted by KSL showed support at over 90 percent.
SB 262 narrowly passed out of committee with a vote of 4-3 last year, but it ultimately died on the floor of the Senate without ever receiving a debate or a vote.
Urquhart has made one alteration to the bill this year. Last year’s SB 262 would have required that commissioners sitting on the Antidiscrimination and Labor Advisory Council, the council responsible for investigating discrimination accusations, sexual orientation be a factor in consideration for a position on the council (just as they already consider gender, race, and other diversity factors). SB 100 has dropped this requirement.
To contact Senator Urquhart, click here or call 435-668-7759
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Need for Legislation:
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker