SB296, heralded by Utah legislators as groundbreaking legislation for the LGBT community will become law on May 11, 2015. The new law prohibits discrimination in housing and employment in Utah based on sexual orientation or gender identity, meaning people cannot be fired or denied housing due to race, sex, sexual orientation, pregnancy, age, disability or national origin.
It is important to remember the full name of SB296 is “Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedom Amendments.” The addition of legislation addressing religious freedom made it possible for members of the LGBT community to compromise with the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That compromise and subsequent endorsement made it possible for the bill to even make it to the floor of the overwhelmingly LDS legislature after years of trying. Individual cities and towns have passed anti-discrimination legislation, but the legislature has, until this year, refused to formally address the issue.
Utah law specifically protects groups by name making it different from controversial laws passed and then rejected in Missouri and Arkansas. At the same time, it does not require businesses with less than 15 employees to comply and it allows rental property owners with few properties and religious institutions who employ people and own properties to discriminate.
Utah’s new law exempts religious institutions and their auxiliaries (schools, hospitals, charities – even the Boy Scouts of America) from following the law. It does not prohibit “reasonable rules and policies” in regard to dress, grooming or bathroom facilities. It also protects employees who express their beliefs at work, as long as they are “reasonable, non-disruptive, and non-harassing.”
What about businesses who discriminate against customers? Will boycotts shut them down or will there be even more discrimination when people with extreme views get involved? The law does not address that.
Will the new law work? Is such a law necessary? Should there be legislation that says we are all equal exist when the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution says very plainly that we all have equal protection under the law? Time and people will tell the tale. But come May 11 – it’s the law. Such as it is.
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Source: Equality Utah, Utah State Legislature, New York Times, Huffington Post, Washington Post, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, US Constitution