Tooele County legislators heard different views from Tooele County residents last Thursday about a bill that would protect housing and employment rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The viewpoints were shared during a town hall meeting Thursday at Tooele City Hall. The meeting was hosted by the Tooele County Republican Party and attended by Rep. Doug Sagers, R-District 21; Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-District 68; Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-District 12; and Sen. Pete Knudson, R-District 17.
Senator Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, has introduced Senate Bill 100 -Antidiscrimination Amendments. It modifies state law to include sexual orientation and gender identity in current state laws that prohibit discrimination in housing and employment based on age, sex, religion, or race.
Urquhart sponsored similar legislation in 2013. It was passed out of the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services committee one week before the end of the session by a 4-3 vote with a favorable recommendation. However, the bill died because it did not come before the full Senate for a vote.
Nicholeen Peck, Tooele resident and president of the Worldwide Organization of Women, a Utah-based organization that promotes women’s and family issues worldwide, told legislators during the town hall meeting that she opposes Urquhart’s antidiscrimination legislation.
Peck is concerned about the impact of Urquhart’s bill on families and Utah’s bid to defend its constitutional definition of marriage.
“This attack that happened on our state is very concerning to us,” she said. “Last year, Senator Urquhart brought up an antidiscrimination bill that is very concerning to us because it did make it out of committee. They are trying to make sexual preference a protected class with this kind of legislation.”
All 16 states that have adopted legal gay marriage started with an antidiscrimination bill, according to Peck.
“We do not think that sexual preference makes a person a protected class,” she said. “We encourage all of you — please do not let this thing get out of committee.”
Kami Perkins, Tooele City’s director of human resources, took the opposite position.
“I support legislation that does protect people that don’t share my same family status or my same family beliefs,” she said. “I believe in equal protection for all my employees regardless of their sexual orientation. I do believe in equal protection and I do support legislation for equal protection in the workplace.”
For Nicole Cline the bill is a matter of civility.
“You can be civil and treat people equally even if you disagree with their beliefs,” she said. “Why would anybody oppose the ability of another person to earn a living and live in decent housing? Those are two basic necessities of any person.”
Cline said she knows friends that have lost good jobs when their employer found out their sexual orientation.
Sen. Pete Knudson, R-Brigham City, who also represents part of Tooele County, was one of the four committee members that supported Urquhart’s bill in 2013. This year, however, he is unsure on how he will vote.
“What the courts did with the marriage situation has changed the climate,” he said. “While I don’t draw a direct connection between marriage and housing or employment rights, this is something that we need to discuss a lot more. There is a lot of societal change that concerns me, but I also don’t like discrimination at any level and the hate and anxiety associated with it.”
Thursday’s meeting was held to give citizens an opportunity to express their concerns to local lawmakers before the Utah Legislature convened Monday for its 45-day general session. The session ends on March 13.