After a last-resort effort to move an anti-discrimination bill out of the Senate rules committee failed, all gay-rights legislation in the Utah legislature is essentially dead.
On Monday, Sen. Ben McAdams made a motion with the full Senate to move the anti-discrimination bill out of the rules committee. The motion failed in a 21 to 7 vote.
“This legislation is important because discrimination is real,” McAdams said. “While Utah is a warm and welcoming community that is not how we are perceived nationally.”
Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, the chairwoman of the rules committee, objected to moving the bill forward for debate.
“We have a process here where people can create bills and then they are sifted. We will not hear every bill,” Dayton said. “There doesn’t seem to be the interest in rules committee to lift it out.”
Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, objected to Dayton’s assertion.
“Sifting should not be done in a manner that stops or stifles public comment on issues of our day.”
The bill has been stuck in the rules committee since the beginning of the session and has not been moved for public debate despite recent polling data that shows roughly two-thirds of Utahns support the measure.
Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said he feels that too often minority party bills are stifled and not allowed to progress in the Senate.
“We recognize that we don’t always have the numbers to move our bills forward. But we’d like to think that our bills will be given fair consideration,” Romero said.
Dayton disagreed with the allegations that she, and other Republicans, would stop Democratic bills from advancing.
“The accusation that the rules committee is not treating minority bills fairly, I think is questionable,” Dayton said.
Several legislators objected to the bill because they said there was no data shown to indicate a non-discrimination act was necessary. However, at the beginning of the session, Equality Utah delivered a report to each legislator that detailed discrimination in Utah based on a year-long survey. The survey found that 44 percent of gay people in Utah had been fired or denied a job because of their sexual orientation. That percentage jumped to 67 percent of transgender Utahns.
In addition to the non-discrimination bill being stuck in the rules committee, the other bills that were seen as pro-gay rights are also very unlikely to move forward in the legislature.
A bill that would have allowed second parent adoptions for unmarried couples, including gay and lesbian couples, went to a committee hearing, where it was tabled and never moved again. Another bill that would have allowed same-sex partners to file suits in the case of a wrongful death never moved to committee.
However, it hasn’t been all bad news from the Utah legislature for gay rights. Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, proposed three different anti-gay bills at the beginning of the legislature, and all three bills were later pulled.
“The rejection of those bills had everything to do with a well-formed coalition of supporters that showed that those bills were not only bad for the gay community, but all Utahns,” said Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah.
Perhaps the most controversial of the three bills was one that would have allowed religion to be a valid defense against discrimination charges. This would have effectively gutted the 11 ordinances already passed in Utah municipalities protecting gay Utahns from discrimination.
Another bill proposed, and later pulled, by Christensen said that Utah must act only to preserve a family with a mother, father and children. The last proposed bill would have voided all contracts that were against public policy. That could have been interpreted to mean that wills and other guardianship contracts between same-sex couples would have been voided, Balken said.
Christensen said in a statement that all three bills were pulled because they were too important to rush. He said he wanted more time for the bills to be discussed. He did not return phone calls or e-mails made by QSaltLake.