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American Fork considers adopting gay-rights measures

Published December 12, 2011 10:06 pm

Government • City could be Utah County's first to embrace anti-discrimination rules.
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American Fork Mayor James Hadfield was greeted by 95 emails when he came into the office Monday morning.

The topic? The city's proposed anti-discrimination ordinances, modeled after Salt Lake City's landmark measures barring housing and job discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Hadfield said many of the letters came from followers of the conservative Sutherland Institute, which opposes the ordinances, while some were from supporters of the legislation.

When the City Council meets Tuesday, it could become the 13th local government in the Beehive State and the first city in Utah County — seen as a bastion of Mormonism and conservatism — to enact such legislation.

The LDS Church actually endorsed the anti-discrimination measures in 2009, when Utah's capital city became the first local government to pass them.

"The issue ... is the right of people to have a roof over their heads and the right to work without being discriminated against," Michael Otterson, head of public affairs for the LDS Church, told the Salt Lake City Council on that November night. "But, importantly, the ordinance also attempts to balance vital issues of religious freedom. In essence, the church agrees with the approach which Mayor [Ralph] Becker is taking on this matter."

Since then, a dozen other Utah jurisdictions have adopted similar measures.

Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, applauded American Fork for considering doing the same. Contrary to what critics fear, she said, the measures would not take away an employer's right to fire a bad worker or a landlord's right to evict a deadbeat tenant.

American Fork Councilman Rick Storrs is sponsoring the proposed statutes. Storrs, who leaves the council at year's end, could not be reached Monday for comment.

Councilwoman Heidi Rodeback, who joined with council colleagues Storrs and Keith Blake in securing a spot on the agenda for the measures, said she supports the proposals but is willing to listen to concerns about them.

"On the whole," Rodeback said, "I favor the approach because I see it as an essential safeguard of human rights."

A Mormon herself, Rodeback said the LDS Church's stand "greatly influenced" her decision because it balanced human rights and religious liberty. She predicted it would do the same with many American Fork residents.

But Hadfield views the church's statement as pertaining to human rights in general — and one that could be hard to enact in American Fork because of the potential costs.

"It is important to recognize human rights and everyone has the right to have a roof over their heads and employment," Hadfield said. "But what impact is it going to have on our municipality?"

It's a position the Sutherland Institute shares. William Duncan, director of the institute's Center for Family and Society, said his organization favors a broad declaration of human rights, but not one focusing on sexuality.

Duncan argued the proposed exemption for religious organizations and schools should be extended to religious businesses that are not directly affiliated with a church.


Twitter: @donaldwmeyers

facebook.com/donaldwmeyers Which places have passed similaranti-discrimination ordinances?

Salt Lake City

Salt Lake County

Summit County

Grand County

Park City


West Valley City






Alta —

What's next?

P The American Fork City Council will conduct a public hearing on the proposed anti-discrimination ordinances at 7:10 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 31 N. Church St.




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