Support Building for Statewide Non-Discrimination Law

Utahns are remaining steady in their support of a statewide law banning discrimination in housing and employment for gays and lesbians, a new Zions Bank/ poll shows.


The new survey by Dan Jones & Associates finds that 59 percent of those polled strongly or somewhat favor a statewide law banning such discrimination.

However, in recent years the Republican-controlled Legislature has refused to even hear such a bill, sponsored by Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George.

In the 2014 session, in a closed GOP Senate caucus, the Republican senators decided not to consider any gay same-sex or discrimination bills at all, saying they prefer to let same-sex marriage play out in the federal courts.

Last January, a Salt Lake Tribune poll showed that 60 percent of Utahns favored such a bill. And a similar poll in 2010 found two-thirds of Utahns favored such a statewide law.

Interesting in the new Zions Bank/UtahPolicy survey is that 50 percent of Republicans favor a statewide anti-discrimination law on housing and employment for gays and lesbians.

Only 36 percent of Republicans oppose such an all-encompassing bill, Jones found.

The poll was conducted August 12-14, 400 likely voters, margin of error: +/-4.9 percent.

Jones told UtahPolicy that “Utahns are becoming more tolerant on the gay rights movement, especially when it comes to denying housing to gays and lesbians.”

Even those Utahns who said they follow the Tea Party movement – and so could be of concern for some GOP lawmakers in their re-elections – are moving toward support of Urquhart’s measure.

Jones found that among Tea Partiers, 48 percent favor such a statewide law, while 31 percent oppose it.

Of course, Democrats and independents greatly favor a gay/lesbian anti-discrimination law in housing and employment – Democrats  favor it 77-18 percent and independents want such a law 64-24 percent.

Jones found that only those who said they are “very conservative” have real problems with a statewide law on banning such discrimination for gays and lesbians.

Forty-two percent of “very conservative” voters favor such a bill, while 44 percent oppose.

“Somewhat” conservatives support the bill 54-34 percent, and the favorability rises as the political moderation rises, as well.

About 20 local cities and counties have passed a “model” piece of legislation first supported by leaders of the LDS Church in Salt Lake City several years ago.

And many believed then the Legislature would soon act on such a bill statewide.

But GOP lawmakers have been skittish.

For several years Democratic-sponsored efforts went nowhere.

Then Republican Urquhart picked it up, and many believed a GOP-sponsored bill could pass.

But the first year of Urquhart’s efforts GOP senators wouldn’t even let the bill out of a committee. Then it did pass out of a committee in 2013, with the understanding it wouldn’t even get floor debate, which it didn’t.

In the 2014 session, GOP senators decided in a closed caucus that no gay/lesbian-based bills would be heard at all.

It is still unclear what may happen to a Urquhart bill in the 2015 Legislature.

In an unsuccessful attempt to move conservative legislators in the 2014 session, the anti-discrimination group Fair To All ran some TV and radio spots during the session.

You can see the spots here.

Come October, the U.S. Supreme Court may agree to hear Utah’s appeal on our state constitutional ban on same sex marriage.

If the high court takes the case, then it will be argued sometime over the next nine months and a decision given next June.

And GOP legislators may use the same 2014 excuse in the 2015 general session – best to wait on all gay/lesbian legislation until after the high court rules.

With support of the Salt Lake City anti-discrimination ordinance by leaders of the Mormon Church, one would think that rank-and-file church members would support such a measure.

After all, Jones found that among “very active” Mormons, 53 percent favor the bill, 34 percent oppose.

But in years following the SLC ordinance, church leaders began to hedge a bit, with rumors flying in recent Legislatures that some kind of “personal faith” exemption should be included in the law.

For example, if a landlord really, really believed that his personal religious beliefs wouldn’t allow him to rent to a gay couple, then he shouldn’t be force to so.

But that is simply unworkable, say anti-discrimination advocates.

There’s a political timing aspect, as well.

In years past, GOP legislators sometimes had to face archconservative challengers within their own party, and had to rally enough state party delegate votes in convention to advance.

For the first time, come 2016 Republican lawmakers can bypass their party delegates, and get on the primary ballot via voter signature petitions.

Avoiding archconservative delegates may lead to more political courage on so-called moral bills, like gay and lesbian discrimination.

For his part, Urquhart told UtahPolicy on Monday that he believes his bill will pass in the 2015 Legislature.

“It is the right time. It is the right thing to do,” said Urquhart, an attorney in private practice.

“I believe we will pass it this next session. People all over are getting a greater awareness of the issues, some have friends or family members” who are gay, lesbian or transgender.

Considering Utah’s strong, growing economy, it is also the time to “level the playing field” in employment and housing, and his bill will do that and help keep the proper atmosphere in Utah, he said.

Urquhart said he does believe his bill has been harmed by the same-sex marriage issue – the Utah law being struck down in federal court and on its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Some of my (legislative) colleagues still think I’m running a same-sex marriage bill; which of course this (anti-discrimination) bill is not.”