Senator Steve Urquhart (Republican – St. George) continues to press forward with his desire to protect victims of hate. Last year, Urquhart attempted to pass SB 100, which would have included gender identity and sexual orientations as classes protected by equal protection laws.
That bill, famously, was held the entire session as lawmakers decided it was best to stall all legislation related to gender and sexual orientation until the Supreme Court rendered a decision in Obergefell v. Hodges regarding same-sex marriage. Utah’s own Kitchen v. Herbert was a precursor to Obergefell, and there was concern that any action, for or against, might ultimately be found unconstitutional.
[pullquote]Utah has no hate crime law for many segments of the population, a glaring oversight in the eyes of Senator Steve Urquhart (Republican – St. George). His bill would add protections for those targeted because of their actual or perceived disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, and/or sexual orientation.[/pullquote]The Obergefell decision came in June of 2015 and same-sex marriage became law of the land. And it is with that background that we turn to SB 107 – Hate Crimes Amendments.
SB 107 has nothing to do with same-sex marriage – what it does do is create greater penalties for those who commit a crime against a person or property specifically because the victim had a particular ancestry, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religion, and/or sexual orientation, and that the person was targeted specifically for any one of those identifiers. The law currently states several of these classes, however Urquhart is adding disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation to the mix.
When asked what makes hate crimes different from a regular crime, where it could reasonably be assumed that the crime comes from a place of hate, Urquhart responded that a hate crime “is more than that…when you single out someone because of characteristics, then really it is intended to be a crime against whomever is in that group…When a person commits a crime against ‘x,’ well, it isn’t just that person they singled out, it’s a group they went after. “
Urquhart also notes that the current nondiscrimination laws are not a good fit when it comes to attempting to prosecute for hate-related offences, calling the current system “unenforceable.”
The bill itself, if successful, would bump all crimes up one level – if it could be proven that the defendant acted specifically against a person or property because of their protected class. For example a Class C misdemeanor would go to class B, a Class A misdemeanor would go to a thrid degree felony, and a first degree felony could have additional sentencing placed upon the individual.
As Urquhart pointed out, the bill does not restrict speech – individuals are free to express hate under the 1st Amendment. But Urquhart also notes that law draws a line between thought and action – when someone acts on their hate to harm another, Urquhart feels that a harsher punishment should come down.
Urquhart is correct – in some cases a crime is not just a crime. Hate crimes are designed to not only harm an individual, but also to instill fear in a group of people. HB 107 would send a clear statement that we live in a diverse community and that it is not acceptable to harm others specifically because of your personal beliefs. This isn’t about restricting speech, it is about providing a more civil and just society.
To contact Representative Nelson, click here.
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