ST. GEORGE – With a U.S. Supreme Court decision clearing the way for legal recognition of same-sex marriage in Utah, anti-discrimination legislation that has been twice-stalled may have a better chance of getting through the Legislature next year.
During the 2013 session of the Utah Legislature, Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, introduced legislation amending the state’s current nondiscrimination laws regarding housing and employment. The amendment would add members of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender community to those protected under the law.
In brief, the legislation proposes to make it illegal to deny a person employment or housing, or to fire or evict a person, based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The law would affect businesses that employ 15 or more people and landlords who manage five or more properties. Exemptions are allowed for religious-affiliated businesses and housing facilities.
Though it passed out of committee during the 2014 session, Urquhart’s bill and others related to gay rights in any way, were shelved for the year by the Legislature due to the ongoing court battle over Amendment 3 – Utah’s same-sex marriage prohibition law.
Road block no more
As of Monday, thanks to the Supreme Court turning down Utah’s request to hear it’s case over the matter, Amendment 3 is no longer an issue.
Amendment 3 was originally struck down as unconstitutional by federal district Judge Robert Shelby on Dec. 20, 2013. The 10th Circuit Court upheld that decision despite Utah’s appeals. Finally appealing to the Supreme Court, the high court granted a stay on Shelby’s ruling on Jan. 6, 2014. During the 17 days in between, over an estimated 1,200 same-sex couples were married across the state.
The stay on Shelby’s ruling was only in affect until the Supreme Court decided to hear or drop Utah’s appeal of the 10th Circuit Court’s decision upholding that original ruling. With the announcement Monday that the high court chose not to take up the case, the stay was removed and same-sex marriage, once again, became legal in Utah.
With that road block out of the way, Urquhart said he plans to reintroduce the anti-discrimination bill once again during the 2015 legislative session.
“I think it will pass now,” he said. “There’s no more slippery-slope saying this will lead to gay marriage.”
Urquhart added that he sees his proposed bill as one largely relating to commerce.
“Commerce requires a level playing field,” he said. “We have laws that regulate commerce.”
In addition to adding housing and employment protections for the LGBT community, Urquhart also said a significant element of the bill relates to Utah’s business environment.
Many businesses are looking to expand into Utah but may not do so based on the perception that it is an anti-gay state, and that perception does exist, Urquhart said.
Should Urquhart’s bill pass, some groups such as the Sutherland Institute have said it will lead to prospect of “public accommodation” being applied to many different areas as a result.
“Once we insert that concept in the law, it’s going to be hard to keep that from applying to all kinds of situations,” Bill Duncan, Sutherland Institute director of the Center for Family and Society, told KSL.com.
Public accommodations are generally described as entities that serve the public in some fashion, such businesses and schools which can be either private and public. They must be able to accommodate the public in general, and not discriminate against individuals based on a variety of factors like race and religion.
While a number of other states have added sexual orientation and gender-identity to the list, Urquhart’s bill only applies to housing and employment.
“That is a separate issue,” Urquhart said.
As reported by KSL.com, just as Urquhart plans to reintroduce his bill, Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, also plans to reintroduce legislation that could exempt clergy, judges, and government officials from performing same-sex marriages based on religious objections.
“I don’t think anybody should be compelled to do something that they have a religious objection to specific to marriage,” Anderegg said, according to KSL.com
While any state-level legislation related to LGBT issues won’t be heard until next year, members of St. George’s LGBT community have begun to raise awareness for a potential nondiscrimination ordinance.
During a gathering at Vernon Worthen Park in St. George Monday celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision, activists Randy Thomson and Matthew Jacobson announced they would be approaching the St. George City Council about the matter on Nov. 6. They plan to address the council about moving toward adopting such an ordinance.
Prior to the announcement, Jacobson sent at a letter to the members of the City Council advocating the creating of a nondiscrimination protecting members of the LGBT community related to employment and housing.
“We’re certainly willing to listen,” St. George Mayor Jon Pike said.
A total of 19 cities in Utah, including Salt Lake City and Springdale, have passed anti-discrimination ordinances. The Salt Lake City ordinance even had the approval of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when it passed in 2009.
“Good laws don’t clog up the court system, but inform people of what the law is,” Urquhart said, referring to the Salt Lake City nondiscrimination ordinance.
And if St. George ends up adopting a similar ordinance? “I think that would be a great thing,” he said.
“I think this is a significant issue of our time,” Urquhart said. “LGBT discrimination is a real thing.”
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- Judge orders Utah to recognize same-sex marriages from 17-day window
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