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Non-Discrimination shelved again

In the wake of Judge Shelby’s 2013 ruling on Utah’s Amendment 3, the reactionary forces of the Utah legislature came out in force.  Several marriage and “religious liberty” bills were introduced, as were bills about gender identity and bathroom use.  There was even mention of a statewide repeal of previously passed municipal non-discrimination ordinances.

As more and more bills were filed, Utah’s newly-appointed Attorney General Sean Reyes and his “special outside counsel” Gene Schaerr visited the legislature’s Republican caucus in a closed door meeting. According to reports, legislators were advised to shelve any bills related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender issues in order to avoid the appearance of animus, which is one of the planks of the case against Amendment 3’s constitutionality.

As a result of these warnings, House and Senate Republican leadership struck a deal that imposed a moratorium on all LGBT-related bills for this session. That moratorium includes SB100, Sen. Steve Urquhart’s (R-St. George) bill that would prohibit discrimination in housing and employment on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. This is now the sixth year that this bill has been filed at the legislature and never made it for discussion to either chamber.

Senate President Wayne Neiderhauser (R-Sandy) told this reporter that he supported the moratorium because he believes that it is important for the Utah Legislature to let the situation cool down. He indicated the emotions were high in the wake of the Kitchen v. Herbert ruling, and that decisions should not be made by the legislature when emotions are high.

In a press conference earlier this month, Urquhart suggested that this is exactly the right time to pass protections for all Utahns. Responding to the AG’s warning about animus, he suggested that “the Senate discuss the bill civilly and with respect. We should just discuss it without animus,” he said.

The chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, which now has jurisdiction of the bill, Sen. John Valentine (R-Orem) reiterated Neiderhauser’s position. When asked by this reporter what non-discrimination protections had to do with marriage equality, he admitted that the two are not related. He explained that the leadership was going to shelve a number of bills against marriage equality and other LGBT issues and that the SB100 would be shelved, essentially, as a compromise to make that happen.

Equality Utah has been working to pass a statewide non-discrimination statute since 2009.  Equality Utah’s executive director, Brandie Balken, expressed her disappointment with the Utah Legislature while reiterating her commitment to this legislation and her appreciation for this community and its allies.

“Equality Utah is disappointed that our state legislature missed this obvious opportunity to create a win for our state.  LGBT equality has won in the court of public opinion — and we are consistently winning in the courts,” she said. “The question is no longer if we will achieve equality in Utah, but when. We know that this bill will be heard, and will be passed — and it will be because the LGBT community and our allies persevered — showing up year after year and never giving up.  Even now, we continue to organize — and will use 2014 to further build our momentum and our majority.”

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