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Non-discrimination ordinances become law in Salt Lake City

By , | Posted - Apr. 2, 2010 at 5:55 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A group of Salt Lake City leaders, along with members of Equality Utah, gathered on the steps of the City and County Building Friday morning to celebrate the implementation of the city's new non-discrimination ordinances.

The ordinances take effect Friday and make it against the law for landlords and employers to deny someone housing or a job because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said these ordinances send a message.

"If you are going to do business in Salt Lake City and if you are going to be a resident in Salt Lake City, discrimination won't be tolerated. We are going to pass a law that outlaws it as we do for other forms of discrimination," he said.

"And really, we're not creating a special class. We're not creating quotas or special privilege," explained Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah. "What we're actually doing is providing protections for all people in two very core areas: in our homes and in our jobs."

If you are going to do business in Salt Lake City and if you are going to be a resident in Salt Lake City, discrimination won't be tolerated.

–Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker

John Wells Bennett, supports the ordinances. He says he was fired from his economic development job with the state of Utah in 1986 after writing a letter to the editor, praising newspaper coverage of a gay pride event he helped organize.

He said, "Well, I think it will make an enormous difference. I think it will make people feel empowered to be out and be proud of who they are at work and not fear retribution."

He added, "I personally know many people who have been fired for being gay and denied housing for being gay. The reason governments put this into their protected list is not to create a super long list of protected classes, but it's after thoughtful consideration, when there's pervasive well-documented discrimination against a certain class of people."

Other cities, including West Valley City, Park City, Moab, Taylorsville, Ogden and Holladay are also looking at the issue.

West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder said, "Standing up against prejudice, discrimination and bigotry is not a Christian virtue alone, for it is humanity's virtue."

But the president of the Sutherland Institute, Paul Mero, urged cities to slow down.

Mero said, "The fact, and these local officials realize this, is that the state Legislature will intervene in the Salt Lake City model. So why bother unless they feel exceptionally convinced that 'gay rights' should trump religious liberty in Utah?"

Salt Lake City officials say they did consult with legislative leaders. Becker said, "We worked very closely to develop an ordinance that was within the context of our state anti-discrimination ordinances, and so far it's held up."

If someone feels they have been discriminated

If someone in the city feels they have been discriminated against because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered they can now file a complaint with the city's Office of Equal Opportunity.

If administrators feel the complaint has merit they will investigate. From there, the case could be sent to the city attorney and referred to justice court.

City staff says if found guilty, a landlord or employer could be fined $500 to $1,000 per incident, but the landlord or employer would not be forced to give the person a rental unit or job.

Equality Utah will be holding public discussions in the coming months in cities like Logan, St. George, Tooele and Price. The group says it plans to put together a report on state-wide discrimination that will be given to each lawmaker before the 2011 session.

A turning point on this issue came in November when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints endorsed the ordinances as "fair and reasonable."

Not everyone likes the new rules. When they passed, the Sutherland Institute called them "vague, dangerously broad, and unjust to the parties they seek to regulate."


Story compiled with contributions from Randall Jeppesen and John Daley.

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