Unless you were living under a rock last year, you may have been aware that there was a little controversy surrounding whether antidiscrimination legislation from Senator Steve Urquhart (Republican – St. George) should even receive a committee hearing. Ultimately, the powers that be decided that it would be best to sit on the legislation until the Supreme Court made some sort of decision regarding the Kitchen v. Herbert court case that made same-sex marriage “not-illegal” in the state of Utah. The argument at the time was that there was concern that lawmakers might say things during the debate that would show that the state had animus toward same-sex marriages, placing Utah at a distinct legal disadvantage in the eyes of the court.
In the intervening months, the Supreme Court has spoken, stating that the lower court’s decision to overturn Utah’s Amendment 3 should stand, and with that apparent speed bump out of the way, Senator Urquhart is once again advancing antidiscrimination legislation this session.
Urquhart’s antidiscrimination legislation is the exact same as it was last year, even down to the bill number. Because SB 100 – Antidiscrimination Amendments has the same attributes as last year’s bill, our analysis is nearly identical as well – with one key difference adding flavor to this legislation; the recent affirmation by the LDS Church that it supports legislation such as SB 100.
We remind you that after Salt Lake City passed its own antidiscrimination law in 2009 (which was endorsed by the LDS Church), several other cities and counties have put some form of antidiscrimination 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 and are inconsistent or nonexistent across the state. Urquhart’s legislation, if successful, 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 with some isolated exceptions.
And the problem of discrimination is a real one for many in the Beehive State. In a 2010 survey by UCLA’s Williams Institute, 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.”
In 2013, Laura Bunker, Director of United Families of Utah, testified against Urquhart’s version of the bill at that time, claiming to the committee that antidiscrimination laws in California, Connecticut, Iowa, and Massachusetts lead to state supreme court decisions that ultimately resulted in same-sex marriage. Senator Urquhart countered that antidiscrimination laws affect only employment and housing regulations, and are 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 despite the lack of an antidiscrimination law on the books. With the Supreme Court’s decision affirmed, this argument no longer appears valid.
What hasn’t changed is the real impact on businesses and individuals. Michael Weinholtz, CEO of CHG Healthcare Services testified in 2013 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. At the time, Urquhart’s legislation 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.
Public opinion also continues to move in favor of antidiscrimination legislation. In an October poll conducted last year, 65 percent of residents supported the idea of a statewide antidiscrimination law, up 6 percent from a poll conducted just prior to the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the 10th Circuit Court’s decision to strike down Amendment 3. The same poll found that 27 percent of residents still oppose antidiscrimination legislation, which was down 2 percent prior to the decision.
With all prior arguments as to why SB 100 should not advance nullified, and with the support of both the public and the LDS Church, lawmakers will be hard pressed to find excuses as to why they will not advance this legislation.
To contact Senator Urquhart, click here or call 435-668-7759
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