Anti-Discrimination Bill Introduced in Utah Senate

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Brent Uberty

(Daily Utah Chronicle file photo)

By Courtney Tanner

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(Daily Utah Chronicle file photo)
(Daily Utah Chronicle file photo)

With commentary from the bill’s sponsors and LDS Church representatives, legislation seeking to reconcile anti-LGBT discrimination and religious freedom was introduced in the Utah Senate on Wednesday with praise from both sides.

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SB296 is sponsored by Sen. Stephen Urquhart (R-St. George) and Sen. Stuart Adams (R-Layton). The bill amends current state law to be more inclusive, providing protection for LGBT citizens from discrimination in housing and employment. Some areas in Utah, such as Salt Lake City, already have similar ordinances in place, but this would expand protection state-wide.

“I think that this represents a product that is great for the people of our state,” Urquhart said. “It can serve as a great model for the people of this nation, if we move beyond the idea that somehow religious liberties and LGBT rights are opposite to each other — they aren’t. Freedom is freedom.”

The legislation initially gained momentum after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced its support on Jan. 27.

Under SB296, landlords cannot deny applications from LGBT citizens. Employers would also be required to provide “reasonable” accommodations for all sexual orientations and gender identities, including restrooms and dressing facilities.

There are exemptions to the antidiscrimination regulations for religious organizations and affiliates, such as the Boy Scouts of America. Urquhart defended this addition against questions from the audience.

“This part of the bill makes it clear that people of faith can act like people of faith, can talk like people of faith, and they will be protected also,” he said.

Troy Williams, the executive director of Equality Utah, attended the bill’s unveiling. He said it gives “tremendous hope” to the 55,000 LGBT citizens in Utah, 37,000 of whom are in the workforce.

“We will send a message to them that you belong in Utah,” he said. “This is your home.”

Williams, a former LDS missionary and prominent gay rights activist, applauded the Church and LGBT advocates for “standing side-by-side” on this issue in a dominantly conservative state. Sister Neill Marriott, representing the LDS Church along with Elder Todd Christofferson and Elder Tom Perry, said the bill is a fair compromise between the groups.

“This nation had become, and is, polarized between these two sides: religious freedom and gay rights,” Marriott said.

Sen. Jim Dabakis (D-Salt Lake City), a noted champion of LGBT rights in the Utah legislature, and Rep. Brad Dee (R-Ogden), the bill’s house sponsor, also spoke at Wednesday’s press conference.

SB296 will now move on for discussion in the Utah Senate. If passed there, it will go to the Utah House and later to Gov. Gary Herbert. The Utah Labor Commission would be responsible for enforcing the bill’s provisions.

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