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Notes for discrimination bill may be backfiring

Published February 4, 2014 11:18 am

SB100 • Senate president says posts on chamber door prove the workplace discrimination issue is too emotional to hear.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

The doorway to the Utah Senate chamber is now wallpapered with notes from across the state, asking lawmakers to "hear SB100" to ban housing and employment discrimination against gays.

But the hundreds of notes, posted in response to a plea last week from Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, may be backfiring.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said Monday the notes are proof "there is a lot of emotion out there" over same-sex marriage and related issues.

But, he added, the Legislature should stick with plans to let the issue cool down and not deal with more changes until the courts consider Utah's appeal to a federal ruling that struck down its ban on same-sex marriage.

"This is an emotional time," Niederhauser said. "Let's stop and pull our faculties together and address other issues this session and wait for the process [in court] … to take place and we'll come back at another time to address religious liberties and other types of discrimination."

At a news conference last Friday, Urquhart placed his own note on the Senate door that read "Hear SB100." He asked Utahns to urge lawmakers to debate it, too.

"I'm ecstatic about the reaction" and the quantity of notes sent and posted, Urquhart said Monday. "I'm just trying to hide my smile every time I walk past it."

He was undaunted by Niederhauser's negative reaction. "My job is to move the bill forward and to convince my colleagues that it needs to be heard. If leadership is still saying that it won't be heard, I haven't done my job yet," Urquhart said, adding he then will pursue another approach.

"I know how this issue ends eventually," he added. "It is a question of whether we pass this legislation this year or next year or sometime after. I just want to be a positive part of the dialogue so society can move forward on this. I just hope that I am doing this like a statesman."

Niederhauser said he believes if same-sex-marriage issues are put on hold, lawmakers also want to delay action on SB100.

"Although there's not a direct tie to same-sex marriage, they are sister and companion issues," he said, adding that if bills on one side move, "we could open up the floodgates."

"It is most important for us right now to take some time," Niederhauser said. "Let's not get too anxious. The best kind of policy is the policy that takes some time and has had a lot of deliberation."

Urquhart said a ban on discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has been proposed in the Legislature for five years — long before the same-sex marriage ruling — and has wide public support. Last year, it received committee approval, but was not heard on the Senate floor.

A poll conducted for The Salt Lake Tribune found that 60 percent of Utahns support a bill banning workplace and housing discrimination, while 35 percent opposed it.

ldavidson@sltrib.com