New Poll: Support For Anti-Discrimination Legislation Grows In Utah

Following statements by LDS Church leaders in favor of a state law banning discrimination against gays and lesbians in housing and employment, Utahns’ support of such a law has greatly increased, a new UtahPolicy poll shows.

In a survey of 606 Utahns just completed by Dan Jones & Associates, 78 percent of Utahns said they “strongly” or “somewhat” support a statewide law banning employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Only 19 percent said they “strongly” or “somewhat” oppose such a law, and 4 percent didn’t know, Jones found in a survey conducted Feb. 2-9 – after the LDS Church leaders made their favorable statements on Jan. 27. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.98 percent.

In a UtahPolicy poll that asked the same question back in October, Jones found that 65 percent of Utahns supported such a gay anti-discrimination law in housing and employment.

So there has been, overall, a 13-point swing in favor of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George.
But the new poll finds the biggest swings in support come from Republicans (who are mostly good Mormons in Utah), and “very active” and “somewhat active” members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In other words, when their church leaders speak, Utah Mormons really pay attention.

Here’s how the new and the October poll stack up by religious preference:

— Now, 78 percent of “very active” Mormons support the anti-discrimination bill.
— October, 58 percent of “very active” Mormons supported it.
— Now, 82 percent of “somewhat active” Mormons support gays being free of discrimination in housing and employment.
— October, 56 percent of “somewhat active” Mormons supported it.

Jones found that back in October, 54 percent of Utah Republicans supported the statewide anti-discrimination law. Today, 76 percent of Republicans support it.

15-to-20-point swings in a public issue in just over three months is huge, and the LDS Church leaders’ January statements on the gay anti-discrimination issue clearly had an impact.

Democrats have always supported the gay rights issue, 91 percent in favor in October, 85 percent in the new poll.
Seventy-six percent of political independents favor the bill today, 74 percent back in October.

Three weeks ago, just as the 2015 Legislature was starting, three members of the church’s Quorum of The Twelve held a press conference in which they emphasized support for anti-discrimination laws in housing and employment for homosexuals and transgender people.

At the same press conference, the church leaders said time and again that there needs to be some kind of general protection for religious people to live their lives and practice their beliefs safe from threats, mistreatment or discrimination against them.

UtahPolicy editors and Jones didn’t ask a religious freedom question back in the October poll, since it was not a big issue then.

UtahPolicy editors and Jones decided not to try to ask the religious liberty issue in the latest poll because there was no specific legislative language yet drafted, and the LDS Church leaders spoke in such broad, general terms about religious liberty guarantees that a specific question really couldn’t be drafted.

It is safe to say, however, that in religiously-oriented Utah citizens would greatly be in favor of the religious liberties LDS leaders are talking about.

Speaking at his weekly legislative session media briefing on Thursday afternoon, before the UtahPolicy poll was released, Gov. Gary Herbert said now is the time for the Legislature to pass a bill, or bills, that specifically outlaw discrimination against gays and lesbians in housing and employment, and a measure that shores up religious liberties and an individual’s and group’s right to practice their religion.

Herbert said it no doubt will be difficult to draft the religious liberties language – for you don’t want to harm others’ individual rights as you protect religious freedoms.

“But it can be done, and I believe” it will be successfully done, said the governor.

Herbert said he prefers getting one bill that has both segments in it – gay anti-discrimination and religious liberties.

And that is the preference GOP legislative leaders in the House and Senate, both groups told UtahPolicy on Thursday.

But at the same time, House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, said political splits on both issues, in both houses, could require two separate bills.

Herbert said he would be “very unhappy” if only one of those two bills were sent to him for approval – meaning he’d want both bills passed. If he got only one bill – either one – well, Herbert didn’t say he would veto it, but he strongly suggested it.

Both measures should pass this session, said Herbert, or neither should pass.

This week a bill by Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, HB322, was introduced. It does not include specific language on anti-discrimination for gays and lesbians in housing and employment, but talks about guaranteeing such rights for all Utahns regardless of their classifications.

HB322 goes on at great length about ensuring religious liberties.

Leaving out specific language on gays and lesbians is not sitting well with their advocates.

Herbert said he didn’t feel strongly one way or the other, as long as it was very clear that gays and lesbians could not be discriminated against in housing and employment.

The LDS Church leaders’ comments have made both issues “more timely,” said Herbert. “There is wisdom in addressing these issues now, not kick the can down the road” any more. (Urquhart’s bill has been stalled in the Senate for several years.)
“Now is the time to deal with these tough issues,” said Herbert.

In commenting on the new poll numbers, Urquhart told UtahPolicy that the upsurge in support for his gay anti-discrimination law reflects the “common ground” Utahns now find on this issue.

"This poll ratifies that. This is the area where we can come together. Religion is already in there (state law). If we need to beef it up, let's do that. Let's add in protection for our LGBT community in employment and housing."

"I think the LDS Church weighing in is extremely significant. They've always been a big player on this issue in Utah. “They've been supportive since 2009, but the church has been silent (lately) so it's nice they've spoken out on this and spoken clearly.
“In regards to providing protection for the LGBT community in employment and housing, this issue is already settled. It's over. I just hope the Legislature won't be the last people to the party."