Most comments back proposed Holladay antidiscrimination plan
Gay rights • Measure would prohibit discrimination in housing and employment
Published: February 7, 2014 01:42PM
Updated: February 28, 2014 08:59AM
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Keith Johnson | The Salt Lake Tribune Holladay Mayor Rob Dahle and the city council listen to public comment during a Holladay City Council meeting, February 6, 2014.

Holladay • The Utah Legislature has closed the door on any debate this year of legislation prohibiting job and housing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people, but Holladay city on Thursday night opened its doors to the community to discuss a similar proposed ordinance at the local level.

Most of the 21 people weighing in on the topic during the public hearing supported the proposed ordinance. But the two in opposition displayed no “animus” of the type that legislators say they were worrried about cropping up on Capitol Hill and harming the state’s legal defense of its ban on gay marriage.

Ron Hilton said adoption of a Holladay antidiscrimination ordinance could result in “unintended consequences against religious freedom” involving people of traditional faith. He suggested the council members table the “volatile issue” without a vote.

David McAllister said Holladay doesn’t need the ordinance because issues of gay rights are being dealt with on the national level. He also said the Holladay ordinance will impact landlords and hiring managers without solving a real problem.

“Every law has a cost of constraining someone’s freedom,” McAllister said.

The two expressing opposition were by far in the minority, with most residents urging adoption.

“Discrimination based on sexual orientation is no different” than that directed at people because of race, gender, religion or other factors, resident Katie Filler said.

Rev. Tom Nordberg of the Holladay United Church of Christ (HUCC), was at the hearing with a group of church members in support of the ordinance. He said no one should be regarded as a second-class citizen.

Lance Peacock said the ordinance would provide basic protections that others have.

“The gay community is not seeking any special rights,” said Peacock, who lives in Holladay with his husband and children.

The Holladay City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposed ordinance at its Feb. 20 meeting. Council members previously considered this ordinance but never brought it to a vote. It is unclear whether the measure will pass this time, although Mayor Robert Dahle and some council members have expressed support.

Councilman Steven Gunn said Thursday he is unaware of a single incident of discrimination in Holladay based on sexual orientation or gender identity and questioned whether it was appropriate to adopt an ordinance dealing with a non-issue.

But Ralph Chamness said that without a law prohibiting housing and employment discrimination, it is hard to know if it happened. Councilman James Palmer Jr. said a speaker at a previous hearing told the council about a man who was evicted when his landlord learned that his roommate was his boyfriend.

Others said the ordinance would serve as a deterrent, provide common sense protections and reflect well on the community. Bryan Harman said it is especially important to implement the law because the issue will not be discussed this year on a state level.

Republicans in the Utah Senate voted overwhelmingly in a private meeting Wednesday not to consider SB100 sponsored by Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, that addressed housing and employment discrimination against members of the LGBT community. Senate leaders pointed to a private discussion with state attorneys in saying they didn’t want to consider any bills affecting gay and lesbian issues while the state is appealing U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby’s Dec. 20 ruling overturning Utah’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Legislative leaders said they were advised that “animus” displayed during debate could harm the state’s case.

Also speaking Thursday in support of the ordinance were former Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jani Iwamoto, a Holladay resident, and Jean Hill, who represented the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.

At a Jan. 9 study meeting in which the mayor and Palmer spoke in favor of the measure, Councilman Lynn Pace warned that passing the ordinance would be taking a step toward creating a new protected class.

“I don’t think there’s anyone who wants somebody to lose their job or get kicked out of their apartment, but this issue is also loaded with a social statement that is a sensitive issue,” Pace said at the time.

Salt Lake City became the first municipality in the state in 2009 to adopt an ordinance prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians in housing and employment. Since then, 17 more Utah cities have passed similar laws.

pmanson@sltrib.com Twitter: PamelaMansonSLC