Utah legislators have their heads in the sand again

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Michael Houck, Staff [email protected]

The Utah Legislature is up and going for its 45-day run, proposing bills and passing new laws. And it seems that legislators are gearing up to help everyone in Utah for the better… well, at least I had hoped so. In the second week of the session, Utah Republican caucus leaders have suggested lawmakers in both the House and the Senate not move forward on any bills dealing with nondiscrimination and religious freedom.

The reasoning for this is because they don’t want to tread on any policy territory related to LGBT rights since the recent court ruling on Utah’s marriage constitutional amendment in December 2013. I can understand why they don’t want to move forward on any laws that might have to deal with same-sex marriage because right now it is really confusing with the current status related to this court case. Currently, Utah doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages and the federal government does, in certain circumstances.

But here comes the problem with the legislators: Now they are also turning away from moving forward with any bills that would protect people from discrimination related to their sexual orientation, not just same-sex marriage.

These are two separate issues, though. The big bill that is getting the most attention is Senate Bill 100, which would forbid anyone from discriminating against a person from being able to get housing or being employed based on their sexual orientation. College housing, religious organizations and businesses are the only ones that are excluded from the bill.

On Feb. 3, a number of Utahans went to Salt Lake City to try to urge lawmakers to move forward on this bill by putting blue notes on the door to the Senate Chamber asking them to reconsider to move forward. Shortly afterwards, in a closed door meeting, senate Republicans decided not to move forward on the bill and on Feb. 10,13 protesters were arrested for blocking entrance to a committee meeting, trying to urge lawmakers to rethink their decision about not moving forward with bills related to the LGTB community.

Unfortunately, this tactic doesn’t really surprise me with the Utah Legislature, with their whole “put their heads in the sand” game that I have seen them play in the past.

One example is when lawmakers passed the abstinence-only sex education bill back in 2012.  So many Utahans were opposed to this bill that Governor Gary Herbert ended up vetoing it. If the bill had passed, it would have made it mandatory that public schools would have to teach abstinence-only sex education, which would have left our youth in the public school system not knowing anything about how to practice safe sex, STDs, contraceptives and how to keep themselves sexually healthy.

Right now nearly 20 Utah cities and counties have already adopted non-discrimination ordinances similar to the protections listed in Senate Bill 100. And, according to a recent poll published in the Salt Lake Tribune, nearly 60 percent support a state law that prohibits discriminating against individuals based on their sexual orientation.

So, once again like they did when Utahans insisted that they were opposed to abstinence-only sex-education in 2012, Utah policymakers are ignoring the majority will of the people.  There is an argument that if Senate Bill 100 is heard then other bills that might incite public conflict will also need to be heard, but it’s my opinion that if the majority of Utahans want Senate Bill 100 to go through the legislative process, it should be heard.

This isn’t the topic of same-sex marriage. This is about every human being having equal rights. Laws already protect a person, no matter their religion, sex and race, I think now it’s time that we include those with a different sexual orientation. I just hope those that are representing us on the hill will see past gay and same-sex rights issues and just focus on it being a human rights issue. Instead of deciding on a new state tree, they should think about making a new state bird: the ostrich.