Thirteen people arrested while protesting at the Utah Capitol in support of a measure that would forbid discrimination against gay people hope to eventually take their cases to trial, and plan to again press the state Legislature to hear the bill.
“This is self-defense,” said activist Troy Williams. “Our community has been under assault at the Utah Legislature for years. What we did was in defense of ourselves and our community.”
The “Capitol 13” planned to plead not guilty to misdemeanors at a Salt Lake City Justice Court appearance Monday, but found formal charges hadn’t yet been filed — an oversight Utah Highway Patrol troopers planned to fix Monday afternoon, said spokesman Dwayne Baird.
Judge John Baxter instead made an entry on his personal calender for the group to check in with their attorneys on the case status in 30 days. They had expected class B misdemeanor charges of disturbing the Legislature and charges of disorderly conduct, a class C misdemeanor.
Regardless, activists plan to return to the Capitol on March 5 at 12:30 p.m. for a rally to again push legislators to hear SB100, which would outlaw employment and housing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Utahns.
“I believe that God loves each of us and relies on us to love and care for each other,” said Angela Isaacs, who was among the 13 arrested and describes herself as a straight Mormon woman. “I believe you shouldn’t be fired for being gay, or refused housing or service at a restaurant for being gay. ...We have a long way to go.”
The rally seems unlikely to lead to more arrests — Williams said it won’t have the same “civil disobedience” aim.
Not everyone agrees the Feb. 10 protest was effective. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, said in a tweet earlier this month that SB100 would be better served if the protesters had instead met with Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy. But Williams said Monday that he met with Niederhauser the week before the demonstration and thought another meeting wouldn’t have done any good.
“They don’t care about democracy. They don’t care about the will of the people,” said Williams. “When I spoke to Senator Niederhauser, it was clear his mind was already made up.”
Urquhart didn’t immediately respond to a call for comment on the new rally. On Monday, Urquhart and openly gay Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, announced a “first-ever conversation” between legislative leaders and people from the LGBT community.
Scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Utah Capitol in Room 445, the event is open to the public and will bring together 12 LBGT people with legislative leaders, including Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox.
Meanwhile, Utah cities and counties continue to pass their own ordinances banning gay discrimination. Holladay became the 20th local government to pass such a measure last week.
The Capitol 13 were detained while they blocked access to an afternoon Utah Senate committee meeting. They had spent most of the day standing in front of Gov. Gary Herbert’s office, seeking assurances the bill would be given a hearing.
Republican leaders decided not to hear any bills related to LBGT issues this year, even though several polls indicate a solid majority of Utahns support a nondiscrimination bill, which has been proposed at the Legislature for the past five years.
They cite potential damage to the state’s legal battle to keep the state’s ban on gay marriage, which was overturned by a federal judge in December.
More than 1,000 couples wed during the 17 days the unions were legal before the ceremonies were stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The state’s bid to defend Amendment 3 is now awaiting arguments in front of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
Supporters of SB100 point out that same-sex marriage and LGBT discrimination aren’t directly related, but legislators say they don’t want to make decisions while the atmosphere is still unclear. They’re also worried about “animus” — the possibility that their actions, or something said during the debate, could be used as evidence the state is anti-gay.
Another SB100 push planned
Activists arrested at the Utah Capitol on Feb. 10 while protesting in support of SB100 will rally at the Capitol at 12:30 p.m. on March 5, trying again to push lawmakers to hear the bill.
The bill would ban discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in housing and employment.