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Poll: 60 percent of Utahns support LGBT anti-bias bill

Published January 22, 2014 9:12 am

Poll • Most Utahns back the LGBT anti-discrimination bill, but the number hasn't grown; effect of gay-marriage ruling unclear.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

About 60 percent of Utahns say the state should adopt legal protections against discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in housing and the workplace, according to a new Salt Lake Tribune poll.

"I just believe that everyone has an equal right, and it's more than constitution, it's conscience," said Dee Kooring, of Salt Lake City, a retired claims examiner who said that she watched men promoted above her and other women at work. "It bothered me, but I had a family to raise so I couldn't really speak up at the time."

St. George resident Lillian Nelson, though, said she doesn't think another law will help.

"I think the problem is when special interest groups such as gay people want specific laws built for them, then it actually becomes cross-discrimination," she said. "I believe that we've become too politically correct."

About 35 percent of the survey respondents contacted on cellphones and land lines agreed that the state doesn't need legal protections for LGBT people, while another 6 percent weren't sure.

Support for such a law doesn't appear to have grown since the last time The Tribune surveyed Utahns in 2010, when about 66 percent of the respondents said they were for it. However, differences between the way those two polls were conducted — including question phrasing and a change in polling companies — means the results aren't directly comparable, said Quin Monson, director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University.

The margin of error for both surveys, meanwhile, is plus or minus 4 percent, meaning the results could have overlapped. "It's possible that nothing has really changed," Monson said.

Circumstances are different. The 2010 survey was taken not long after Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County passed non-discrimination ordinances with the support of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which counts many Utahns as members. Another 16 municipalities have approved such protections since then.

This year, the First Freedoms Coalition, about 20 groups that oppose a non-discrimination law for LGBT groups, is set to run 30-second television ads hundreds of times on local and cable TV shows. They're also hosting three events this week.

"At first, nondiscrimination laws sound reasonable, but they're not because they actually give special rights to some people at the expense of others," said co-chair Laura Bunker.

This year's survey was also taken less than a month after a federal judge overturned the state's amendment banning same-sex marriage. Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka, who argues a nondiscrimination law could lead to co-ed school bathrooms, said the audience for her presentations has grown since the ruling.

"I think what's affected it is the eye-opening shock that through a lawsuit one judge can totally rule and change a state law that has nothing to do with the federal government," said Ruzicka, who presents at least three times a week. "We have found our meetings have been packed ever since."

The campaign against the idea comes after it cleared a Utah Senate committee last year — the most progress it's made in five years.

Sponsor Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, said it's unclear how this year's events could affect his proposal to amend state law to include LGBT people.

"I think definitely the dynamic has changed, but I don't know if things will be easier, harder ... more convoluted, I just don't know," said Urquhart.

His proposal would affect housing and employment, not school restrooms, and he has said it won't create new protections for LGBT people, but rather include them under the state's existing laws.

"When you look at the trend lines, I think more and more people are realizing people are people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. There's just increasing acceptance of individuals as individuals."

Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, said it's unclear so far how the ads or the two weeks of legal same-sex marriage in Utah might affect the anti-discrimination debate.

"It would be really interesting to see how that's impacted public opinion," Balken said. "Even though the numbers have changed somewhat, a majority of Utahns believe that no one should live in fear of being fired or evicted based on who they are."

And for many, the issue isn't simple. Anne Moss of Payson said she's against discrimination, but the same-sex marriage ruling rubbed her the wrong way.

"I'm not OK with them being discriminated against, whether they're gay or by color, gender or whatever. ... Unfortunately, some people need to be told they can't do that," she said. Marriage, though, is a little different. "If a judge can come along and overturn anything, what's the point [of voting]?"

Alton Pickup of Randlett, meanwhile, thinks that government shouldn't be involved in marriage at all, gay or straight — but he's torn on how to ensure everyone is treated equally.

"It's kind of hard to say, because I don't want there to be a law," he said, "but at the same time I don't want people discriminated against, and the only way you're going to do that is with a law."

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lwhitehurst