It’s an historic, if brief, moment for fairness and justice in Utah.
Unfortunately, I’m guessing this is as far as SB262 goes in the 2013 Legislature.
The anti-discrimination in employment and housing for LGBT Utahns may or may not get a full vote in the Senate. That remains to be seen.
If it does get Senate floor debate, watch for the bill to come up late in the session, perhaps during a lull in the action and instead of sauntering – something senators have gotten very good at toward the end of recent general sessions – they give Urquhart a short time in the limelight.
But no way is SB262 going to pass the Senate and get a vote in the House. This is one hot potato representatives don’t want to handle.
Urquhart, R-St. George, was courageous to sponsor the gay rights bill.
And Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, and Majority Assistant Whip Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City; along with Democratic Sens. Pat Jones and Karen Mayne; were courageous to vote it out of the Senate Economic Development & Workforce Services Committee before a packed hearing room Thursday night.
Voting against SB262 – in a voice vote – were Sens. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan; Stuart Reid, R-Ogden; and Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton. Thus, it passed on to the Senate 4-3.
The bill is here. At this site you can click on SB262 and listen to the committee hearing, the six folks who spoke against the bill and the six folks who spoke for it.
You can also hear Urquhart’s comments; those of Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, the only openly gay member of the Legislature; and the comments by the various committee members.
I found the thoughts of Reid especially interesting.
Reid, who at one time worked as a top staffer within the LDS Church’s communications and special affairs departments, said that he believes homosexual acts immoral. And as such, he can’t in good conscience vote for a bill that would give gays and lesbians “special” treatment under the law.
In fact, Reid, who has purposely lived his life in some of Utah’s poorer urban areas because he wanted his children raised in those challenging environments, said most often government doesn’t help immoral actions, but works against them for the good of society as a whole.
If you have the time, you should listen to the hour-long debate over SB262.
It really was remarkable, and as fine an example of legislative policy discussion as one will see in this year’s general session.
I mention Reid’s religion because the stands of leaders of the Mormon Church are critical to this debate – and to the outcome of SB262.
Five years ago, over a period of time, church leaders worked with Salt Lake City officials, members of the gay community and former Democratic Sen. Ben McAdams (who is now the Salt Lake County mayor) to craft a city ordinance which protects gays and lesbians from discrimination in housing and employment.
Everyone, church leaders said, should be safe to work and put a roof over their head.
Exempt from all the gay rights ordinances passed by local governments since, 17 so far, are religious institutions and the private businesses they own.
So why, you may ask, is there such opposition from LDS lawmakers (or most of them, at least) to adopting a state law to protect gays and lesbians from discriminatory housing and employment?
That’s a very good question, and not an easy one to totally understand.
Here’s my short analysis: A day after the Salt Lake City Council adopted the church-approved anti-discrimination ordinance – a meeting at which a leading church official spoke in favor of the compromise ordinance – completely unrelated to this issue one of the members of the church’s governing Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave a pre-arranged interview to a Salt Lake Tribune reporter.
An obvious question to ask – and the reporter did – is whether the new Salt Lake City LGBT employment/housing law should be adopted statewide by the Legislature.
In what appeared to me was an off-the-cuff response (in other words, not officially sanction by all of the Twelve), the apostle said it appeared to him that having local communities pick and chose the same antidiscrimination ordinance seemed in order.
Suddenly, while certainly not church doctrine or anything like it, the church was locked into supporting such local laws, but not a statewide law.
Then Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, who himself owned a housing management company, which ran a number of condominium and apartment operations, quickly said he was against a state law like the Salt Lake City ordinance. (Waddoups has since retired from the Senate and was called as a president of a LDS Church mission, an important and honored assignment.)
And, poof, there was no chance of a state law like McAdams sponsored for several years – and now Urquhart takes up – passing the Legislature.
It’s really too bad, and a bit strange, that this has turned out to be such an emotional, odd situation.
You won’t be able to find any of the 104 legislators who would say that it would be OK for a boss to fire a gay person, just because they are gay; nor would you find a lawmaker who would say it was appropriate for an apartment owner to kick out a good tenant just because they lived with someone they loved of the same sex.
But it’s clear to me that it will take a clear statement by LDS Church leaders that they don’t object to a statewide gay rights law (at least in housing and employment) before gay and lesbian Utahns across the state can be free of worrying about losing their jobs or being booted out of their apartments or rented houses because of who they are.
LDS Church leaders have come a long way on gay issues in recent years (yes, the church is against gay marriage), from the late church President Gordon B. Hinckley’s wonderful comments on loving gay people, to the church starting its own web site on gay issues.
But on the issue of gay rights, LDS legislators (or most of them) simply will not approve legislation like SB262 without the reassurance from Mormon leaders that it’s OK.
It’s not just that most lawmakers are faithful Mormons. That’s part of it, sure.
But most of the GOP legislators’ constituents are also faithful church members; and an elected official puts his re-election at risk if he steps out of many of his constituents’ comfort zone on gay rights issues – at least that’s how it appears to me now.
We’ll see what happens to SB262 in the final week of the 2013 Legislature.
But it was a real win to get it out of a Senate committee – something McAdams never could do.
And Urquhart, and the four senators who voted “aye” Thursday night, should be congratulated for that, at least.