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McEntee: Rhetoric swamps American Fork anti-discrimination debate
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As the American Fork City Council heard from residents about a proposed housing and workplace anti-discrimination ordinance for LGBT people, someone plastered fliers saying, "Homosexuals Not To Have Rights!" on every car in the parking lot.

In the council chamber, 15 people opposed the ordinance and seven were for it, including Mark Steele, who supports it because of the ill treatment his adult transgender child has received.

One opponent declared that homosexuality leads to mental illness, disease and a shortened lifespan. Another said passage of the ordinance would be tantamount to allowing Sharia law.

The conservative Sutherland Institute weighed in, saying the measure would "create unavoidable conflicts with religious liberty. Most religious denominations disapprove of sexual behavior outside of marriage between a husband and wife. The proposed ordinances treat that disapproval as akin to racial bigotry."

Such is the rhetoric that nearly always ensues when a city or county decides that those in the LGBT community have the right to a job and a place to live.

While the tone was respectful, said Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, "it's very hard for me. I am that person."

In 2009, Salt Lake City became the first municipality in Utah to enact an anti-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT people. Eleven cities have followed suit, and American Fork may or may not be the 13th.

When Salt Lake City adopted the ordinance, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave this statement: "The issue before you tonight is the right of people to have a roof over their heads and the right to work without being discriminated against. But, importantly, the ordinance also attempts to balance vital issues of religious freedom."

In American Fork, the discussion went on for an hour before Balken suggested the ordinance be tabled until a new council, composed of three newcomers and two incumbents, convenes next month.

"The door remains open," Balken said Wednesday. "I am very proud of the council and mayor for engaging. It's important for gays and lesbians to see officials spending time and effort.

"For many people, it's the first time the issue has been presented. It's important to talk, to hear each other, to see the humanity of every member of our community," she said.

I suspect the ordinance will be debated, challenged and supported for quite some time before its fate is resolved.

I also suspect that the people who distributed those fliers — which also included the Old Testament's punitive Leviticus 20:13, will never change their minds. Another line on the paper read, "Why do we have Gay Rights issues today?"

If you don't know now, you'll never know. As one man who supports the American Fork ordinance got it right when he said as he left the chamber, "What a shame."

By the way, for those who fear the ordinance would create a flood of complaints, it's pertinent that since Salt Lake City's ordinance was adopted two years ago, the city has had only one complaint. One.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at pegmcentee@sltrib.com and facebook.com/pegmcentee.

Tribune reporter Donald W. Meyers contributed information for this column.

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