This year marks 50 years from the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a landmark piece of legislation protecting racial, ethnic and national minorities, people of faith and women from various forms of discrimination. And, as Utah's Legislative Session begins this week, the state's elected officials have the chance to honor that legacy by extending some of those same protections to gay and transgender Utah citizens.
As happens frequently, a vocal minority of probably well-intentioned, but certainly misinformed and misdirected people has conflated the facts about the proposed legislation.
But the Session has arrived, so it's time we cleared that all up. Here are seven truths about the anti-discrimination bill:
- TRUTH 1: The details of the Bill | SB 100 is sponsored by St. George Republican Senator, Steve Urquhart. Utah already has anti-discrimination laws on the books identifying characteristics for which people cannot be fired or evicted, and SB 100 aims to amend those existing laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity where they already mention gender, age, race and religion.
- TRUTH 2: Discrimination is happening | And it's bad, really bad. Equality Utah notes research showing that more than 43 percent of gay Utahns and more than 66 percent of transgender Utahns have been fired, denied a job or a promotion because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Look at how this can negatively impact families.
- TRUTH 3: Debunking the myth of "special rights" | The rhetoric in Utah, propagated largely by the misleadingly named organization, FairToAll.org, positions SB 100 as awarding "special rights," to some at the cost of others. But, every Utahn has a sexual orientation and every Utahn has a gender identity, meaning this proposed amendment will grant protections equally to all residents of the state. The distinct irony of the television commercials made by this group should be noted; they feature women warning about "special rights," yet women are among the groups already enjoying the benefits of this protection. Hmm?
- TRUTH 4: This is what the majority of Utahns want | For elected officials, the will of the people is paramount. And, polling data from a Dan Jones survey showed three out of four people said they would support amending Utah's housing and workplace laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Even Utahns of note support for these kinds of protections. In 2009, Salt Lake City was the first municipality in the state to approve a nondiscrimination ordinance providing these protections; it did so with the support and backing of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS Church). And just last week, Governor Herbert expressed the importance of these protections saying in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, "The idea of nondiscrimination, I support and endorse. I don't think we should discriminate in the workplace or housing based on sexual orientation."
- TRUTH 5: Religious freedoms will remain protected | Not only will churches and religious businesses still have the authority to decide who is welcomed and who is not, all businesses will still be able to choose whom they serve and do not serve. SB 100 includes protections for small business owners and landlords, in addition to its religious exemptions.
- TRUTH 6: The implications are statewide | Utah now has 18 different municipalities all across the state with these protections, which sheds light on two things: 1. Laws like these already in Utah have not cost any Utahns their freedoms (only protected them). And, 2. Our state is now a patchwork of municipalities with and without protections. In addition to causing confusion and angst among our citizens, we turn off potential businesses from wanting to locate or stay here, at the expense of our state's reputation and economy.
- TRUTH 7: This is not about marriage | Seriously, this has nothing to do with marriage. Not one thing. This is 100 percent about ensuring that all Utahns have the opportunity to work and have a roof over their heads, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity.
So, we must all be ready to make our educated voices heard. Because, won't it be a beautiful day in Utah when we come together with common sense and reasonable solutions to our complex and emotionally-charged issues?