An anti-discrimination bill which protects sexual orientation and gender identity died in the Utah Senate before it could even come to a vote.
SB262, sponsored by Sen. Steve Urquhart (R- St. George), would have offered workplace and housing protections to LGBT individuals already afforded to other Utahans based on race, creed, and religion. It passed a Senate committee by a 4-3 vote, but did not receive enough support to reach the floor.
The bill has gone further than any other anti-discrimination legislation introduced in Utah over the past six years. Urquhart has vowed to bring it up again next year. “It’s not going to go forward this year, which means we’ve got a lot of work to do next year,” he said.
Sen. Jim Dabakis (D- Salt Lake City), the state’s only openly gay legislator, told 429Magazine that despite the setback, SB262 marks progress in the fight for LGBT rights.
“I am very pleased. We got a rural, dairy farmer to vote ‘yes,’ a Mormon official to vote ‘yes,’ and our sponsor was from a southern, rural county,” he said. “So this is a great barometer on what’s going on in the America. We’ve never got this far. I predict that [SB262] will pass shortly. I don’t see it as a defeat.”
Opponents of the bill claim it would grant LGBT individuals “special” rights.
Executive Director of Equality Utah, Utah’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, Brandie Balken told 429Magazine that such arguments are “factually untrue.”
“What SB262 does is prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity which every human being has,” she said.
Balken added that “based on statistical studies, three-fourths of Utahans want this kind of legislation to pass.”
If SB262 is reintroduced next year, it would likely need the support of the Mormon Church which has not taken a position on the bill, but has a record of supporting LGBT-friendly legislation.
Dabakis admitted that he and Equality Utah were unable to “make the final move toward their approval” and hopes to change that over the next year. He notes that where the church has come from, supporting Proposition 8 to where they stand now, is “remarkable.”
In response to the news about SB262, several gay rights groups and supporters are planning rallies. One rally sponsored by pro-LGBT Mormons is scheduled to happen March 12. Balken said that Equality Utah is planning its own rally on March 13.
“We’re certainly going in the right direction,” said Dabakis. “Even though we lost, the progress is bone chilling.”