The Straight Line

Nondiscrimination, revisited

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This year Sen. Ben McAdams is at it again. I mean really, the nerve of this guy to think that all Utahns should be treated equally and with respect; how does he justify such ridiculous positions? Forget the fact that more than 70 percent of Utahns agree with passing a statewide nondiscrimination bill, what do ‘We the People’ know, anyway?

In all seriousness, McAdams, along with freshman Rep. Derek Brown (a … gasp … Republican) are set to reintroduce the nondiscrimination bill originally proposed by McAdams last year, which died before it even saw the light of a committee hearing in the Utah Senate. This year there are a couple of new twists that should, hopefully, help move the bill through the process.

The first twist is noted above; there is a Republican House sponsor. It’s fair to say that Utah’s GOP has been less than supportive of such measures in the past, even going so far as to threaten a statewide repeal of the municipal ordinances. Given this, Brown deserves more than a few kudos for his willingness to buck the bigotry inherent in his party to do, as he put it, “the right thing.”

The next twist in the bill is that it extends employment protections to citizens for their political and religious speech outside the workplace. This is partly a response to allegations that people were discriminated against at work due to their support of, or opposition to, California’s Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage. The bill would preclude someone from workplace sanctions for their outside-of-work political and religious activities.

The next wrinkle comes from another angle – support. The Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce has openly backed this legislation, citing its pro-business advantages. In addition to promoting a positive and welcoming image of Utah to the rest of the country (and the world), this bill consolidates the various municipal ordinances and gives both employees and businesses one central set of guidelines to follow, as well as one central agency to deal with complaints and their adjudication. This will serve to reduce the administrative burden on businesses with relation to compliance, as well as make it easier for employees to file and manage their complaints. As McAdams has stated, “discrimination isn’t just bad, it’s bad for business.”

In the time since this bill has gone public, there have been numerous voices raised in opposition as well. Paul Mero and his band of bigots are again beating their chests and warning that this is the first step toward legalizing gay marriage in Utah. Personally, I still don’t understand how allowing two people who love each other to express that through legal commitment is bad, but even so, the jump from employment and housing protections to marriage eludes me. The Utah Constitution is pretty clear on that point.

Even with this new support, however, passage of this bill will be an uphill fight. If you read the last issue of QSaltLake, there was an exceptional guide to citizen lobbying and activism – use it. Get yourself involved in the process by attending committee meetings, arrange to testify, or write letters and emails to your senator and representative. The Utah Legislature has repeatedly ignored these issues in the past, but as we saw last year with HB477, if the people get behind something they have no choice but to follow that lead. So lead them.

This is one of those issues where every voice can make a difference. If supporters of this legislation aren’t active and involved, it will die. Utah’s GOP-controlled legislature has repeatedly demonstrated its unwillingness to act in the public interest unless, and until, that public rises up and forces them to do so. If you want to see change, then you need to make that change happen. Don’t assume that enough is being done to bring this issue to bear on the Legislature, because it’s not. It’s going to require you, it’s going to require me, it’s going to require all of us.

Take the necessary stand and do what is required to ensure that our Legislature enact this legislation in support of the common values of all Utah citizens.

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