This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utah's gay and transgender community made no clear gains during the 2016 legislative session, but it may be what didn't happen that really counts.
A wave of bills that targeted the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender bills was squelched before seeing the light of day, including one to regulate bathroom use by transgender teens and another that would have protected religious-driven discrimination.
The measures stalled due partly to intervention from Utah's predominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which cautioned lawmakers from passing any legislation that would alter the balance between LGBT rights and religious freedom forged in 2015 through landmark nondiscrimination legislation.
That was good for the LGBT community, Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams said, but it also served to block moves to advance or ensure equality.
Bills to toughen Utah's hate-crime laws and guarantee equity in adoption SB107 and HB234 failed with some lawmakers citing LGBT-related concerns.
"The church didn't want to see anything undermine the accomplishment of last year," Williams said. "But we just don't think there is a moral equivalent between legislation that would ban transgender bathrooms with a hate-crimes bill that would protect all Utahns."
SB107 would have allowed prosecutors to up the penalties for bias crimes committed by defendants whose motives were directly tied to animus against a victim's "ancestry, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religion or sexual orientation."
The measure was backed by an Equality Utah-driven coalition of police, prosecutors, churches and ethnic groups. But some lawmakers "thought it was a gay bill," Williams said, "and for some that's where the debate stops."
Among faith communities, only the LDS Church declined to say publicly whether it supported the legislation's goals. In the past, the church had supported hate-crimes bills.
Bill sponsor, Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, who himself is Mormon, has blamed his faith for killing the proposal, which died on a 17-11 Senate vote.
Urquhart is retiring from the Legislature this year, but Williams said the coalition will look for a new sponsor and continue to push for passage.
LGBT advocates were similarly disappointed by a House committee's vote on HB234, which would have altered existing state adoption laws to ensure that gay couples are treated equally in adoption and foster care by removing references to "man and woman."
Salt Lake City Democratic Rep. Angela Romero's bill failed on a 5-5 committee vote despite support from state agencies who oversee adoptions.
In killing the bill, conservative lawmakers said their reading of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage for the country did not extend any other marriage-related rights.
"It pertains only to marriage," said Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, the House Judiciary Committee vice chairman and an attorney with the firm that does much of the legal work for the Mormon church. "It does not refer to a fundamental right to adoption or a fundamental right to foster."
Williams said he was disappointed, but not too troubled by the committee's interpretation of the ruling in the Obergefell case before the high court.
"Many of these lawmakers are still in the denial phase or in the midst of the grieving process," Williams said. "They lost the marriage debate and they are clearly in denial or they are trying to bargain still."
Other LGBT bills considered or that failed to advance in 2016 include:
• SB241. Public Accommodation Fairness Act: From Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, would have ensured equal rights in places of public accommodation, like businesses, schools, recreation facilities and more. Dabakis introduced the bill, but pulled it in committee to allow time for public education on the issue.
• HB393. Sovereign Marriage Authority: From Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper and author of Utah's now-invalidated constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, sought to oppose the Obergefell decision and grant Utah sole authority over domestic relations within its borders, including marriage, child welfare and adoption. The bill was slated for a committee hearing, but was not heard.
• HB382. Parentage Amendments: From Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, promised to insert a preference for adoptions by couples with a male and female parent into Utah law. When released, however, the bill only changed rules regarding birth certificates and assisted reproduction. It was never sent to a committee for debate.
• SB179. Uniform Parentage Amendments: From Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, would amend current laws to allow the state to enforce child-support obligations against all parents, including those in same-sex relationships, and make the standard for the legal presumption of maternity the same as it is for paternity. The bill passed the Senate, but never was considered by the House.