Statewide anti-bias bill dead, sponsor says

Although a bill that would have banned discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation cleared a Utah Senate committee, it will not come to a full vote. Bill sponsor, Steven Urquhart, R-St. George, said he was proud of the progress and conversations that were started but the bill does not have the necessary support to become law.

“We will make sure it’s against the law to discriminate in employment and housing based on gender identity and sexual orientation,” Urquhart said. “This isn’t about special rights. This is about equal rights.”

SB 262 simply would have added a few lines to existing Utah statue about discrimination, he said.

“If we’re for equal rights, let’s vote for equal rights,” he said.

The bill’s process and committee hearing is a large evolution from previous years and an important step forward, said openly gay Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City. Conversations will continue with lawmakers, community members and religious leaders throughout the year and another bill will be sponsored in the next session, Dabakis said.

“We’ve made a huge leap this year toward equality,” Dabakis said.

The bill’s passage depends on more Utahns voicing their support of the ordinances over the next year and letting legislators know equal protection is a large priority, said Equality Utah Executive Director Brandie Balken.

“Equality Utah works, not just to run legislation, but to pass legislation,” Balken said. “It’s incredibly important to acknowledge the work of Sen. Urquhart and Sen. Dabakis as well as tens of thousands of Utahns to take the bill to where it is today.”

Balken said Equality Utah will continue working in Utah municipalities and with other lawmakers to advance similar ordinances around the state.

Although the Mormon Church supported a similar measure in Salt Lake City in 2009, church spokespeople have been silent on the matter since. Dabakis said conversations about gaining the church’s vocal support for a statewide law will continue over the next few weeks.

“Look along generational lines. More and more people are getting it. I am very optimistic for the future. I am a little late to the party, but I’m very glad I’m here,” Urquhart said.

A rally in support of the bill is planned for Wednesday, March 13, 5:30 p.m. at the Utah Capitol.

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