Note to civil rights activists: You can point guns at federal agents and no charges will come against you, you can defy law and tear up Utah lands with 4-wheelers and no charges will come against you, but if you disrupt one door of a committee meeting, you will be charged with a class B misdemeanor punishable with up to six months in jail and $1000 in fines.
The 13 arrested on February 10, who range in age from 20 to 69, have been ordered to appear in Salt Lake City Justice Court on Sept. 26. They have all said they will plead not guilty.
The 13 gays, lesbians and allies were peacefully protesting in support of SB100, an anti-discrimination bill that was sidelined when Utah Legislature leaders were concerned about showing animus towards the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans* community as the same-sex marriage case was making its way through federal courts.
Even with the tabling of all bills related to sexuality and gender, two comments by Utah Legislators made national headlines at the beginning of the session — one by Rep. Jacob Anderegg (R-Lehi) who mocked trans* people by tweeting he was “strongly considering a gender identitfying [sic] change to use the open womens [sic]” restroom as the private “Men’s” bathroom in the House office building is occupied.
Those arrested include Matthew James Landis, Steven Randall Germann, Donna Gonzalez Weinholtz, Gail Ellen Murdock, Dustin James Trent, Jacob Joseph Hanson, 27; Angela Jo Isaacs, Orlando Luna, Kevin Scott Garner, Michelle Turpin, Matthew Anderson Conway, Troy Williams and Gail Mildred Turpin.
Utah Legislature legal counsel told the protesters at the time that their actions could carry felony charges.
Other class B misdemeanor crimes punishable by the same penalties include: Possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, reckless driving and other traffic offenses, DUI, assault, resisting arrest, theft of $500 or less worth of property, trespassing, creating a public nuisance, carrying a concealed weapon without a permit.
Attorneys for the activists appeared on the Utah State Capitol steps today with their clients, and said the intend to take the cases before a jury. They stated that the Utah Constitution protects protesters who “assemble peaceably, protest against wrongs and petition for redress of grievances.” They said such protections trump any statute protecting access to a meeting.
Salt Lake City spokesman Art Raymond said that politics played no role in the decision to press charges against the demonstrators and that the six-month wait for the charges was due to workload.