Urquhart: Utah needs anti-discrimination law

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I am sponsoring non-discrimination legislation regarding sexual identity and orientation, primarily because I believe it is the right thing to do.

Utah has taken steps to reduce discrimination in certain areas, and we are better for it. Once we outlaw housing and employment discrimination based on sexual identity and orientation across the state, Utah will be an even better place.

Regarding my non-discrimination legislation, SB262, "Employment and Housing Antidiscrimination Amendments," one man asked me, "Are you too stupid to understand that I can hire who I want and rent my property to whoever I want?"

I told him that I get his point, as long as he wants to hire/rent to people of any race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, age, physical ability, and — if I get my way — sexual identity and orientation.

He called me a liberal, and told me I'd be punished for promoting the gay agenda.

I worry less about labels and punishment than I do about good policy that promotes liberty, justice and equality.

But, I was interested to see how my sponsorship of this legislation would play in my district, Washington County — one of the most conservative in Utah — and in my church (Mormon) in Sunday meetings.

My district seems mostly fine with the legislation. And, by comparison, the opposition is not nearly as visceral as the opposition I experienced to my educational vouchers bill (the only bill in the history of Utah to be subsequently overturned by citizen referendum).

On the non-discrimination issue, I mostly am having tender exchanges with people who tell me what a difference this bill will make for them, or for a child, a friend or someone else they cherish. They think this idea is fair and appropriate. And, yes, opinions break heavily along generational lines.

The only difference I noticed at church was that a few more people went out of their way to say "hello" and to tell me they are proud of the work I'm doing. Several mentioned the bill. Others held my hand and smiled a second or two longer than normal.

They weren't thanking me abstractly. I have never felt more loved and respected by my fellow church members.

People should be free from housing and employment discrimination based on sexual identity or orientation.

My thanks to those who reached this point before me and helped get me here. I am hopeful that I can help others reach this point, through respectful and upbeat advocacy of this important measure.

Stephen Urquhart is a Republican member of the Utah Senate, representing District 29 in Washington County. He is a St. George attorney.