City council passes gay-rights ordinance

By By Trent Lowe, Asst. News Editor

By Trent Lowe, Asst. News Editor

After the Utah State Legislature failed to enhance gay rights last spring, Salt Lake City Council members took matters into their own hands.

In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the city council voted to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual preference in housing and employment sectors. The ordinance makes it illegal to fire an employee or evict a tenant based solely on his or her sexual preference.

“Although there is a state-wide anti-discrimination law, it doesn’t specifically outline sexual preference,” said Soren Simonsen, a member of the city council who represents District 7.

In 2005, Salt Lake City established a Human Rights Commission to advise city leaders pertaining to human rights and in 2008, shortly after taking over as mayor of Salt Lake City, Ralph Becker asked the commission to draft a report of discriminatory practices in the city and identify areas of concern.

Earlier this year, the commission reported that it had found cases of discrimination based on sexual preference in employment and housing, Simonsen said.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has been prominent in the news because of its stance against gay marriage, sent a spokesman to the meeting with a statement in support of the ordinance, which said that the church “supports these ordinances because they are fair and reasonable and do not do violence to the institution of marriage.”

“I think it’s wonderful that (the LDS Church is) endorsing any anti-discrimination policy,” said Samora Magadla, a junior in sociology who volunteers at the U’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center. “It’s enlightening. Any step forward is a step forward.”

The Utah Pride Center, the most prominent gay rights organization in Utah, commended the city council, Mayor Ralph Becker, the Human Rights Commission and the LDS Church for its support for the ordinance, saying the legislation is an important step in finding common ground.

An attempt was made during the 2009 Utah Legislative session to pass a bill that would have specifically mentioned discrimination based on sexual preference, but failed. There is a state-wide law that prohibits discrimination in the workplace, but it doesn’t explicitly mention sexual preference.

“That’s part of the reason that the city council decided to take this on as a local issue,” Simonsen said.

The ordinance covers all businesses within the municipal boundaries of Salt Lake City, but has no power in surrounding communities. There were exceptions included in the ordinance that exempt religious organizations and businesses with fewer than 15 employees because of individual rights given to such organizations and difficulty enforcing the ordinance on them, Simonsen said.

Although the city council’s decision could act as a gateway to other legislation furthering the rights of the gay community in Utah, some remain skeptical of the actual difference the ordinance will make.

“I personally believe that protection for people who have been discriminated against in the past is a good thing,” Magadla said. “Signing a piece of paper is one thing, but actually acting on it is another.”

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