The Holladay City Council has decided to move ahead with an ordinance prohibiting housing or job discrimination against gays and lesbians despite concerns by some members about making a social statement or creating a protected class in the wake of the still-roiling controversy from a federal court ruling striking down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage.
City officials will hold a public hearing on the proposal on Feb. 6 and the council will vote Feb. 20.
The Holladay City Council will hold a public hearing on a proposed anti-discrimination ordinance Feb. 6, although a time hasn’t yet been determined. The Council is expected to vote on the ordinance Feb. 20
The council has previously considered this ordinance but never brought it to a vote.
Councilman James Palmer Jr. said when the ordinance came up before, Salt Lake City was the only city in the state with such a law and Holladay leaders did not want to be seen as "movers and shakers" on the issue.
Seventeen other Utah cities have adopted such an ordinance after Salt Lake City became the first municipality to do so in 2009.
"It’s become much less controversial and people understand the nature of discrimination when it is based around the issue of where can you live and where can you work," Palmer said at a Thursday night work session. "Can you be fired for who you are and can you be evicted for who you are?"
Councilman Lynn Pace said passing the ordinance would be taking a step toward creating a new protected class, but Palmer disagreed.
"I think what we have today are second-class citizens who are asking to be on par with everyone else and so this isn’t a ‘you-get-to-be-elevated-above-everybody-else ordinance,’ it’s ‘you’re on an equal plane and not discriminated against,’ " Palmer said.
Pace said it would be possible to address discrimination in housing and employment without making a social statement. He said a broader law could be fashioned dealing with lifestyle and interpersonal relationships rather than sexual orientation.
"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. "Are we anxious to solve the problem? I assume the answer is probably yes. And/or are we interested in a statement."
Palmer said the social aspects of this issue are "on the fast track to the Supreme Court," referring to the expected appeals to the high court over Utah’s statute and constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and marriage-like benefits to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) residents.
To Councilman Steven Gunn, the ordinance is largely a symbolic gesture and one that takes away some rights of property owners — but he believes it’s a step that should be taken.
"Even though I am saying I recognize that we are in a sense infringing on the right of the owner of property to use his property as he sees fit, I nonetheless think this is an important enough principle that it deserves our attention and it deserves my support," Gunn said
New Mayor Robert Dahle believes that in the future people are going to accept laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation just as they now accept laws prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, gender and religion. He said the established laws faced the same arguments as this ordinance.
"I think it’s important that we communicate that we value people’s work ethic, we value their character, we value their willingness to contribute to the community long term," Dahle said. "Those are the kinds of values that we like to see in the community. I think it’s important as a statement."
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