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Non-discrimination law likely won't be addressed this year in Senate

By Dennis Romboy | Posted - Mar 11th, 2013 @ 5:28pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — A proposed statewide non-discrimination law likely won't be debated on the Senate floor before the gavel comes down on the Utah Legislature late Thursday night.

Sen. Stephen Urquhart said he's having "great conversations" with his colleagues about the bill, and even "a lot of support but people (are) just wondering if they can bring themselves to vote for it."

The St. George Republican earlier said he wouldn't bring SB262 to the floor unless he has the votes to get it passed.

"It's an uphill climb, but I'm still working to see where I am, where the bill is," he said.

Meantime, a group describing itself as made up of faithful Mormons plans to rally at the Capitol on Tuesday evening in support of the proposed law. According to a Facebook page, they will pray, sing LDS hymns, hear from speakers and carry signs.

It's interesting how those attitudes break along generational lines. Whether we get it through this year or next, it's something that will continue to gain ground and continue to bring people to the idea that people shouldn't be discriminated against for their gender identity or sexual orientation.

–Stephen Urquhart

"Those attending the rally will demonstrate to the Utah Legislature that the bill does enjoy widespread support among faithful Mormons, even though the church has chosen to withhold its official endorsement," according to a press release.

SB262 would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing and employment practices. In addition, it would address workplace dress and grooming standards and shared restroom facilities. The law would not apply to small businesses, college dormitories, religious organizations or businesses owned by religious organizations.

The Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee voted 4-3 last week to advance the measure to the full Senate, with two Republicans and two Democrats voting in favor.

Proponents of the proposed law celebrated the vote as a historic moment in Utah. The bill has advanced further than similar measures proposed the past five years.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement last Thursday saying it has not taken a position on SB262.

"The church is on the record supporting non-discrimination protections for gay and lesbian citizens related to housing and employment," said LDS Church spokesman Michael Purdy. "We also believe that any legislation should protect these rights while also preserving the rights of religious conscience — to act in accordance with deeply held religious beliefs — for individuals and organizations."

Urquhart said he hasn't talked to the Mormon church about the bill. In 2009, it supported Salt Lake City's non-discrimination ordinance, the first of now 17 such laws approved in various communities.

"It would be important to have them. It would be important to have all faiths, all different organizations to come on board," he said. "If we don't get it through this session, I'm sure those are conversations that will occur."

Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, would be among those senators who would not vote for the bill should it reach the floor. He said he opposes it on moral grounds.

"Someone is going to have to demonstrate to me in a satisfactory way that homosexual activity is not immoral because as long as I feel that way, I cannot advance policy that frankly encourages the societal acceptance of something I believe is immoral," Reid said during last week's committee hearing.


Urquhart responded by saying that Reid clearly and articulately expressed the opposition to the bill.

"You know you’re going to be lit up in some places for saying that but you stated it," he said.

On Monday, Urquhart said he has found societal attitudes about the issue interesting.

"It's interesting how those attitudes break along generational lines," he said. "Whether we get it through this year or next, it's something that will continue to gain ground and continue to bring people to the idea that people shouldn't be discriminated against for their gender identity or sexual orientation."

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, the Legislature's only openly gay member, said like Urquhart, he too continues to lobby his colleagues about the bill. He said he's optimistic that lawmakers will debate the issue on the floor.

Asked what year that would occur, he said: "Well, that remains to be seen."

Video contribution: Andrew Wittenberg

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